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Activists Cite Difference Between BLM Protests, Capitol Breach


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Give this to us. This is our Capitol.


Racial justice activists watched in outrage as pro-Trump extremists stormed the Capitol. They're angry that the response stood in contrast - in stark contrast to the aggressive tactics they have endured. NPR's Juana Summers reports.

JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: After the death of a young Black man in Washington last year, Makia Green said that police fired tear gas at protesters as they demonstrated peacefully outside of a police station. Green said they were shot with rubber bullets and that protesters, adults and children alike, were tear-gassed and pepper-sprayed. Scenes like that one have played out across the country as law enforcement faced off with activists protesting police brutality and racial inequality.

And so what many of those activists witnessed on Wednesday was enraging. A largely white group of pro-Trump extremists stormed the Capitol in an unprecedented violent insurrection. Some wore red Trump hats. Others carried Confederate flags.

MAKIA GREEN: It was really shocking to see the difference in how the white supremacist extremists were treated by MPD, by Capitol Police. And so I think we're seeing the most overt signs of white supremacy that has been existing in this country since its creation.

SUMMERS: Green is a core organizer for Black Lives Matter D.C.

GREEN: It's really hard to be constantly told that Black Lives Matter is some sort of super radical, violent extremist organization by the Republicans when you know that what we're fighting for is freedom and peace, and we want an end to violence. And we get treated with nothing but violence.

SUMMERS: Bethlehem Yirga is another local activist, a co-founder of the Palm Collective.

BETHLEHEM YIRGA: We have been protesting all summer. We step off the sidewalk for one second on Capitol Hill, and we've been arrested.

SUMMERS: Some activists said that, in some ways, what happened at the Capitol was a validation of their suspicions that white violent actors would not be met with any of the tactics that protesters against police brutality have faced. A phrase that kept coming up to describe the treatment of the pro-Trump mob was kid gloves. President-elect Joe Biden acknowledged the contrast in treatment on Thursday.


JOE BIDEN: No one can tell me that if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protesting yesterday, there wouldn't have been - they wouldn't have been treated very, very differently than the mob of thugs that stormed the Capitol. We all know that's true, and it is unacceptable - totally unacceptable.

SUMMERS: The Capitol Police chief resigned after pressure from congressional leaders, but had defended the response, saying that the officers were overwhelmed by the thousands of people who descended on the Capitol. One officer died from injuries sustained. Democratic Congressman Jamaal Bowman of New York said that when lawmakers talk about law and order, it too often only applies to people of color.

JAMAAL BOWMAN: We don't mean it, you know, for white domestic terrorists committing treason and sedition and storming the Capitol. I mean, yesterday was an act of war, and we were not prepared.

SUMMERS: Bowman is calling for a commission to investigate the attack, where law enforcement failed, as well as any relationship between law enforcement and white extremists.

Juana Summers, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.