Racial justice activists in New Hampshire say the police response to Wednesday's insurrection by a pro-Trump mob at the U.S. Capitol was a stark contrast to their own experience with law enforcement at protests.
They said they saw more police presence at New Hampshire's peaceful protests this past summer in response to police killings of Black people.
In several cases last year, local law enforcement was seen protecting protesters from Trump supporters who had come to counter-protest.
But Black Lives Matter Seacoast organizer Julian Maduro said there were violent shows of force against racial justice activists at a protest she attended in late May, in Portland, Maine. And at similar protests around the country, videos show police partially blinding several people with rubber bullets.
Maduro was angry to see that the mostly white mob storming the Capitol Wednesday didn’t receive the same treatment. Instead, some police officers at the Capitol were filmed taking selfies with insurrectionists or removing barriers to let them further into restricted areas. More than a dozen police officers were injured in the siege, but the vast majority of rioters appeared to walk out of the building unimpeded.
One man shouts at the police as people are let out of the building, “When we come back, we’re not gonna be like this.”
Another continues, “Next time we come back, we’re gonna be armed.” #dcprotest #CapitolHill #capitolhillbreach pic.twitter.com/yPUqBlKvCw
— Hannah Nightingale (@hanbanana124) January 7, 2021
“Obviously you don’t want casualties or fatalities,” Maduro said, “but to not have rubber bullets flying, to not have people getting dragged out in the same way that we would have … when people were protesting for human rights – it’s frustrating.”
Maduro hopes the pro-Trump insurrection opens more people’s eyes to racial disparities in this country’s policing, and to the possibility of ending unnecessary uses of force and de-escalating all police encounters.
“You had more of a police presence when people were, like, ‘looting Target’ instead of people that were in our buildings in Capitol Hill. That’s crazy to me,” she said. “It’s so clear what is happening with police, what is happening with police brutality and how it is a racial thing.”
Protesters have breached the Capitol. They’re outside the Senate chamber pic.twitter.com/I021tKliUD
— Igor Bobic (@igorbobic) January 6, 2021
Sebastian Fuentes, a Latino immigrant and activist who lives in Thornton, said he has experienced this disparity firsthand. He traveled to Washington four years ago to protest President Trump's inauguration and said police showed more force then.
“I still got shot with a rubber pellet, when I was actually protesting peacefully,” he said. “My only mistake was I was having a megaphone and I was a person of color.”
Fuentes said he worries for the safety of his family and other people of color in New Hampshire and around the country, given the escalating violence by some pro-Trump groups and their calls to disrupt President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration Jan. 20.
"I'm shocked, but I’m not shocked at the same time, because I knew something like this was going to happen,” Fuentes said. “I think it's going to get worse in the next week or so.”
Black Lives Matter Manchester co-founder Ronelle Tshiela said she was also unsurprised by Trump’s encouragement of the mob, followed by praise and misinformation as he told them to go home and said he “loved” those who participated.
“We have been warning about the dangers of Donald Trump and his rhetoric for years,” Tshiela said. “If people weren’t paying attention before, it’s time to wake up.”
Tshiela said when she was organizing a vigil last June in Manchester after the murder of George Floyd, police informed her of planned attacks on the event by white supremacists.
She says police urged her to cancel the event and told her the National Guard was on standby in case of clashes. The vigil went ahead and no violence ensued, but Tshiela said it left an impression.
“If the National Guard can be deployed in New Hampshire for events like that, that remain peaceful, I think it’s absolutely insane that yesterday, more action wasn’t taken, and people were literally allowed to breach the Capitol and attempt to stage a coup on our democracy,” she said.
Tshiela said the apparently lax response of some police Wednesday exemplifies flaws in the law enforcement system "that reform is not going to change."
"No amount of implicit bias training and debias training and racial sensitivity training is going to fix what happened yesterday," Tshiela said, "[or] change the minds and the hearts of people who not only go to the Capitol and act as they did yesterday, but… police officers who act completely different, in stark contrast to how they behaved this past summer."
New Hampshire U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan addressed the police response at the Capitol in remarks to reporters and the New England Council on Thursday. She thanked frontline responders for protecting and evacuating her and other members of Congress amid “a remarkably difficult and violent situation.”
But she said she wants more information about how law enforcement leaders in D.C. prepared for planned protests and supported their officers’ response.
“And the questions you asked in terms of the contrast between the response to Black Lives Matter versus this insurrection are the kinds of things that I think an after-action report needs to address,” she said in response to a question from a St. Anselm College student journalist.
Hassan and the rest of the state’s Congressional delegation have joined growing calls for Trump to be removed from office over his actions Wednesday.