Local civil rights activists respond to Capitol Hill riot

One of the most widely repeated observations to come out of last week's Capitol Hill protests that resulted in at least five deaths has to do with the relatively tepid law enforcement response compared to last summer's Black Lives Matter protests. 

Pundits, both conservative and progressive, have called attention to what they describe as uneven law enforcement after witnessing Capitol Hill police's inability to deal with Wednesday's mob despite knowing days in advance of their intentions to march on Capitol Hill. Critics are calling Wednesday's events an illustration of the unfair law enforcement communities of color have to endure. 

"Many of the members of this branch have been arrested for peacefully protesting," reads a statement from Alamance NAACP President Barrett Brown. "I myself am currently awaiting trial for peacefully protesting the Confederate monument that stands in front of the Historic Courthouse in Graham, NC. In another instance, my fellow advocates were marching with permission from local officials when they were pepper-sprayed and arrested. All across the country, black and brown people have been treated harshly, met with violence, and killed at the hands of law enforcement."

In Alamance County, the treatment of those men and women who make up the Graham 12 is held in stark relief by Wednesday's events. The Graham 12 are individuals who were arrested at the Oct. 31 march to the polls, which ended when local police used pepper spray to disperse the crowd. 

Several members of the Graham 12 are local civil rights advocates who spent much of the summer and fall protesting racial disparities in communities throughout Alamance County. No strangers to what many in recent months have described as heavy-handed law enforcement tactics, members of the Graham 12 aren't as confounded by the Capitol Hill Police's response as they are to the response of other police forces in regards to Black Lives Matter demonstrations. 

"Black protesters would have never made it that far in the first place. Black people would have never made it in the Capitol," said Haikoo X, a member of the Graham 12. 

"If it were black people we would have been looked at like a stain by the same people that are now defending [Wednesday's events]," Haikoo X said. "But we wouldn't have gotten that far, so we wouldn't have to worry about it. It's all hypothetical."

Capitol Hill Police officials have said officers were ill-prepared to deal with the march, due to a misunderstanding of the march's nature. In the days leading up to the march, officials say they thought the march was geared toward freedom of speech not stopping the certification of the recent election. 

Kani X, another member of the Graham 12, isn't convinced. 

"I look at it differently," Kani X said. "This is a great example when folks say police need more training. ... I'm thankful now that we can say no, that is not the case. They showed them respect, they showed the de-escalation tactics, they showed that they are able to do it. Now we can get to the root problem and ask why aren't they doing this now." 

Dimitria McSwain, an organizer of a handful of protests in Asheboro, said it's a matter of perception. 

"From my point of view, they didn't see them as being violent, but they ended up being violent but if Black Lives Matter protestors were out there, they automatically assume things are going to end up violent. Its why they didn't set up any standards or consequences for these people that actually stormed the Capitol. With Black Lives Matter [police] brag about being ready for the riots but they weren't even ready for the riots that are going on now." 

McSwain said that although she agrees with he double-standard criticism, it's important people don't conflate Wednesday's riots with Black Lives Matter protests.

"It's a big difference," McSwain said. "They are rioting because [President Donald Trump] lost, while we are protesting peacefully, peacefully, keyword peacefully, because of the lives being lost everyday."