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BLM Protesters Express Frustration Over Police Treatment Of Mob On Capitol Hill


The mob of insurrectionists were mostly white. They set up a platform with a noose outside the Capitol, and they walked a Confederate flag, a symbol of violence and slavery, into the building that they proceeded to raid and loot. But organizers and protesters for Black lives across the country told NPR's Leila Fadel that they did not feel any shock when they saw these images. Instead, they felt frustration and exhaustion.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: This summer, Nuny Nichols spent her days protesting police brutality in Minneapolis after George Floyd was killed by police.

NUNY NICHOLS: People who were just out there just to protest, to make sure, you know, our voice was being heard - soon as they were getting even close to a building or even close to a police officer, they were instantly tear-gassing. They were shooting rubber bullets.

FADEL: That was the reaction when looting occurred in her city. Overwhelmingly peaceful protests for racial justice were painted as rioters and looters and met with tear gas and rubber bullets. Meanwhile, she watched this actual mob storm the Capitol with little resistance.

NICHOLS: OK. Now the world gets to see the difference between these two situations where it's like one is where we're protesting to be seen, to be heard, to not be killed. Right? And then you have these other people who are just mad because they lost.

FADEL: The president took a completely different tone on Wednesday than this summer when he called protesters for racial justice rioters, agitators, looters - tweeted, when you start looting, we start shooting. He told the extremists storming and looting the Capitol he loved them, they were special, but they had to go home. Ultimately, one person was killed by a police officer. Three others died, and one police officer suffered fatal injuries.

Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson was frustrated by the shock expressed in D.C. She and others have been sounding the alarm for years.

ASH-LEE WOODARD HENDERSON: Just because folks don't believe those of us that come from targeted and marginalized communities doesn't mean that we haven't been predicting this all the while. The South has been saying that white supremacists in elected positions is a dangerous and consequential matter that this country needs to pay attention to.

FADEL: Henderson is the co-executive director of the social justice center in East Tennessee, the Highlander Research and Education Center. Last year, their administrative building was set on fire, a white power symbols spray painted on the ground. White supremacist violence, hate crimes have been steadily rising. Then there was the hypocrisy, she says - white extremists taking selfies with a white police officer as congresspeople sheltered in place and a man walked through the halls with a Confederate flag.

WOODARD HENDERSON: Again, it just exaggerated the contradictions to me around, like, how the state and how police respond to Black and Indigenous and Latinx and Asian and Pacific Islander folks when we protest - or even white people that are protesting for social justice and economic justice for all people versus how they responded to - you know, to gun-toting white supremacists that were coming into the Capitol.

FADEL: Some in the crowd say they don't subscribe to the racism and anti-Semitism that was on full display Wednesday. Ron Harris, a native of Minneapolis, is on the Democratic National Committee and was in Georgia for two historic races that were overshadowed by the insurrection in D.C.

RON HARRIS: To not even have a day to celebrate that and then to turn around and see a huge white mob that was incited by the president to then take over the Capitol building, it was frustrating because I've seen people tackled, arrested, pepper sprayed, tear-gassed, shot with rubber bullets, killed for a whole lot less.

FADEL: Harris protested in Minneapolis this summer. And what he saw in D.C., he says, proves what he and other organizers have been saying, that police make choices about how they react to people depending on their race.

HARRIS: I think that people, for the large majority, are saying, look, you know how to act when it's white folks. You know how to apprehend when it's someone white. You know how to be calm. You know how not to escalate. You know how not to kill. Right? For whatever reason, it seems like that knowledge and that ability and those skills get lost when it's us.

FADEL: He says Black and brown people wouldn't have made it to the steps of the Capitol.

HARRIS: If those folks were Black, if those folks were brown, we'd be having a much different conversation today.

FADEL: Leila Fadel, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.