The storming of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday by pro-Trump extremists left many racial justice activists with one question: Where was the police presence?
While those insurrectionists who broke into the nation’s Capitol were tear gassed, there were only 13 arrests, though hundreds made it inside to threaten congress and destroy property.
And local activists are asking the same questions regarding recent events in Sacramento where pro-Trump groups clashed with counter-protesters.
“It’s a high contrast difference,” said Tanya Faison, founder of Black Lives Matter Sacramento. “You’re able to see very blatantly that the city of Sacramento, and that the Sacramento police department and the county of Sacramento and the sheriff department don’t respond to people that are demonstrating on behalf of Donald Trump that are predominantly white crowds, they don’t get the same response as people who are fighting just to stay alive.”
Since November, Trump demonstrators have been gathering at the state Capitol protesting the results of the election. The so-called “Stop the Steal” rallies have resulted in violence as groups like the Proud Boys have fought with counter-protesters and antifa with little police intervention.
By comparison, in June when demonstrators gathered across the city to protest for racial justice after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, many who attended were met with police wearing riot gear, tear gas, rubber bullets. They were also met by the National Guard. Faison said three demonstrators, including a 13-year-old boy, were shot with rubber bullets during the summer’s racial justice demonstrations.
“We’re not seeing that response with white demonstrators who are mad that Trump didn’t get reelected,” Faison said.
Hundreds of Trump supporters gathered at the state Capitol, including members of the far-right militia groups and the white supremacist group, the Proud Boys. Eleven people were arrested — both counter-protesters and Trump supporters — at the unpermitted demonstrations, all of which were related to carrying pepper spray. There were no other injuries reported, despite small clashes on the outskirts of the rally.
The Sacramento Police Department and the California Highway Patrol would not comment on specific enforcement plans. The Sacramento FBI office said it would assist local law enforcement, but that the organization does not “follow” any groups, only specific individuals who have committed criminal activity or who have threatened national security.
However, Faison said she believes Trump demonstrators and far-right extremist groups do have violent motives, and that storming the nation’s Capitol is an act threatening national security.
“The way that these protesters are acting is in violence,” Faison said. “They come with weapons, they come prepared to do some damage. They’re not peaceful people, and I think it’s a big problem when our government looks at them as such.”
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg released a statement Wednesday calling the Trump riot in Washington D.C. “abhorrent.” A statement from city spokesperson Mary Lynne Vellinga said the mayor was “confident” Sacramento was prepared and would have adequate resources should the Trump demonstrations continue in the coming days.
His office did not comment on calling for the National Guard during racial justice protests over the summer but not for Trump demonstrations in the past few months.
Steinberg said he believes the summer’s racial justice protests and the Trump protests in Sacramento were “different in nature.”
Steinberg also told CapRadio that he wants in the next few weeks a public discussion and review of video footage from the Trump demonstrations in Sacramento and how law enforcement handled them.
Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn released a statement in December after Trump demonstrators clashed with counter-protesters stating that the increased violence “impacts our whole community, and should be a concern for all of us.” The department said it has been monitoring the demonstrations for the past two months and will continue to do so.
Eric Ward, director of the Western States Center, an organization that follows far-right extremist groups on the west coast, said unequal treatment of protesters by local law enforcement will only sow division.
“Western States Center would offer three quick suggestions to elected officials. The first is to plan ahead of time, do not act as if somehow this will not happen in your community, the potential is very real,” Ward told CapRadio in October. “The second is to ensure that law enforcement is not seen as a biased entity in the midst of protest. If they are seen to be draconian with one side and soft gloved with the other, that is a potential for disaster in one's community.”
Cat Brooks, the founder of the Oakland-based Anti-Police Terror Project, said unequal treatment of demonstrators by law enforcement isn’t new.
“What we saw was law enforcement not even wearing riot gear, we saw them commiserating, laughing, joking with protesters,” Brooks said of Wednesday’s siege of the Capitol by pro-Trump extremists. “There are Twitter posts of law enforcement taking selfies with protesters.”
She said the unequal response comes in part from the American law enforcement system having origins rooted in upholding slavery as well as more recent cooperation between white supremacist organizations and law enforcement.
“Who has a right to express dissent in this country? Who has a right to say we are not OK and happy with the way things are going,” Brooks asked. “[It’s] incredibly interesting that at Black Lives Matter protests, we’re trying to build an America that’s good for all folks — but that is not tolerated. But protests that’s about one demographic dominating this country, that that is tolerated by law enforcement.”
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