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    Sunday, June 23, 2024

    For local racial justice activists, riots at Capitol a tale of two police tactics

    As Tamara Lanier watched the riots at the U.S. Capitol unfold Wednesday, she was faced with a reality she knows all too well.

    On Wednesday “everyone saw what people of color have been saying all along, that there’s an inherent bias to how police respond to criminality or the suspicion of criminality based on race,” said Lanier, vice president of the New London branch of the NAACP.

    “There are two standards of justice,” she said. “There are two standards of how we police different communities and it was laid to bare for the world to see."

    In recent days, many, including people of color and those involved in the racial justice demonstrations that occurred last summer in the wake of George Floyd's death, have drawn comparisons between law enforcement's response to the Pro-Trump rioters, who invaded the Capitol building and threatened members of Congress, and the demonstrations this summer that resulted in vandalism to sites around the National Mall and dozens of businesses being damaged.

    Lanier said she sees law enforcement's response to the attacks on the Capitol as a "colossal" failure of leadership, primarily by President Donald Trump, who incited the violence, but also by police officials.

    “I acknowledge that we can’t rest all of this blame on the poor law enforcement people on the front lines who were left there to deal with the crowd,” she said. “This was a policy decision and a failure of leadership in law enforcement.”

    The rioters openly planned the attack on social media for weeks, a fact that underscores the question of why law enforcement was not more prepared to respond, Lanier said.

    “Law enforcement knew about this, just as they knew about the protests planned by the Black Lives Matter group. How and why there wasn’t the proper level of security at the Capitol, it really flies in the face of reality,” she said.

    Four people died Wednesday, including 35-year-old Ashli Babbitt, an Air Force veteran, who was fatally shot by police inside the Capitol, according to the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department. The three others died after separate medical emergencies.

    The head of the U.S. Capitol Police defended his department's response to the storming of the Capitol, saying Thursday that officers “acted valiantly when faced with thousands of individuals involved in violent riotous actions.”

    Later Thursday, Chief Steven Sund announced that he planned to resign effective Jan 16.

    In his earlier statement, Sund said the rioters “actively attacked” Capitol Police, which had planned for a free speech demonstration, and other law enforcement officers with metal pipes, discharged chemical irritants and “took up other weapons against our officers."

    More than 18 local, state and federal law enforcement agencies and the National Guard assisted the Capitol Police, he said.

    Capitol Police officers arrested 14 people Wednesday, Sund said, the majority of them on charges of unlawful entry. Washington's Metropolitan Police Department said its officers arrested 70 people in connection with the unrest from Wednesday through 7 a.m. Thursday, mostly on charges of violating curfew and unlawful entry.

    That's in comparison to the 427 "unrest-related" arrests that were made in D.C. between May 30 and June 2 in connection with the racial justice demostrations, as reported by Forbes.

    Democratic state Rep. Anthony Nolan, a New London police officer, said he "clearly felt" police handled the rioters differently than the Black Lives Matter protesters.

    "It was clearly transparent that there was privilege," Nolan said. "You’ve got people jumping on desks in the Capitol, breaking windows, and some of the police were taking selfies with people instead of deterring them from what they were doing."

    However, Nolan said he felt Wednesday's attacks were more of a leadership failure than a law enforcement failure.

    "Law enforcement was overwhelmed," he said. "If they had prepared as they did for the Black Lives Matter protests, they wouldn’t have been overwhelmed."

    While Wednesday was a flagrant example of how police can treat people differently based on race, Shiela Hayes, president of the Norwich chapter of the NAACP, said that wasn't the focus for her.

    "It was about why wasn’t our Capitol building and our elected officials, the people we elect and send to represent us in Washington, why were they not protected?" she said.

    Hayes said she was incensed by the image of a rioter holding a Confederate flag in the U.S. Capitol, and that those responsible for the attacks should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

    "Let's call it what it was, it was an attempt to overthrow our government, and not one Black Lives Matter protester ever attempted to overthrow our government," she said.

    For Alexis Thornton, an organizer of the racial justice demonstration in New London last summer, the only solution to preventing the disparity on display Wednesday "is to keep diving deep to the root of the problem, which is all lives won't matter until black ones do."

    "This was nothing but white privilege, so until we are all seen as one there will continue being a problem," she said in a text message Thursday.

    Robin Relliford-Vilchez, who is involved in efforts in Norwich to improve relations between police and the community, said if it had been people of color protesting racial justice who had stormed the Capitol, "I believe there would be bodies instead of batons."

    "There would've been more than four bodies,"  she said.

    Relliford-Vilchez and other Norwich residents meet weekly with Norwich police on issues relating to the community. She said she planned to bring up the Capitol attacks at the group's next meeting and wants to ask the Norwich police, whom she called her friends, "what they would have done."

    "Maybe they can help me understand what went wrong and why was it different for the Trumpsters versus those with Black Lives Matter," she said.

    Lanier, a member of the committee formed in New London last June to examine how police policies and procedures impact residents, said the group was supposed to meet Wednesday afternoon, but with the news, quickly decided to postpone its discussion until a later date.

    She anticipated that discussion will include a conversation about the disparate treatment by police on display Wednesday.

    "When we raise this issue, it’s not because we’re trying to be divisive. We're trying to be corrective and reformative because we have to address it," she said.

    The Associated Press contributed to this report.

    j.bergman@theday.com

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