Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Day 74° Partly Cloudy
News >  Pacific NW

Black Washingtonians question disparate treatment in images of white extremists storming Capitol

Jesse Hagopian, a history teacher at Garfield High School who says he was pepper-sprayed by police after participating in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day rally and march, talks about his experience during a press conference in 2015.  (Lindsey Wasson/Seattle Times)
Jesse Hagopian, a history teacher at Garfield High School who says he was pepper-sprayed by police after participating in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day rally and march, talks about his experience during a press conference in 2015. (Lindsey Wasson/Seattle Times)
By Sydney Brownstone Seattle Times

At some point, Jesse Hagopian had to turn off the news.

Eight years before a group of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, Hagopian, an activist and educator, had been handcuffed and arrested at the Washington state Capitol while protesting education underfunding. Then, in 2015, Seattle police pepper sprayed Hagopian during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event while he was walking on a sidewalk and speaking to his mother on the phone.

What he watched unfold at the Capitol looked worlds apart to him. Television feeds showed hundreds of right-wing extremists who had been openly discussing a protest for weeks quickly overtaking the handful of police at barricades around the Capitol. One livestream appeared to show a Capitol police officer posing for a selfie with a Trump supporter inside the building.

Hagopian and several other Black Washingtonians who witnessed the day’s events through computer or TV screens described frustration, hurt and anger at the contrast in police response to a mob overtaking the Capitol compared to their own and other Black Americans’ experiences with police.

“It’s been surreal,” Hagopian said Wednesday. “That double standard is lost on no Black family in America.”

Capitol police officer Brian Sicknick died Thursday from injuries sustained “while physically engaging with protesters,” according to Capitol police. Capitol police made 14 arrests Wednesday afternoon, 10 for unlawful entry, two for allegations that included assaulting a police officer and two for allegations that included carrying a pistol without a license. Police fatally shot one woman, Ashli Babbitt, in Wednesday’s riot.

By Thursday morning, Washington, D.C.’s Metropolitan police had arrested 69 people, mostly for alleged curfew violations. One person was arrested on a felony charge of rioting.

The images of white extremists overtaking the Capitol without much police presence drew painful comparisons to Black Americans killed by police in recent years.

“There was no fear of these people,” University of Washington sociologist and professor Alexes Harris said of authorities’ preparation for the demonstration at the Capitol. “But when you have a Black 12-year-old, Tamir Rice, with a fake gun, you’re scared of him? But you’re not scared of white men rushing a building?”

The contrast, Harris said, “was abhorrent.”

But the anger on display didn’t come as a surprise to Harris.

“It was interesting that particularly white people are saying they’re dismayed, this isn’t America, they’re shocked, they’re hurt,” Harris said. “And for me and (for) the Black folks on Twitter, we’re like yeah, this is America.”

On Twitter, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., demanded answers about the security response on Wednesday and said there was a “stark difference” in the treatment of Trump insurrectionists compared to the women, people with disabilities, members of the clergy and activists of color who have protested in and around the Capitol in the past.

Chief of U.S. Capitol Police Steven Sund described what happened in a statement Thursday morning as a “violent attack on the U.S. Capitol” and “unlike any I have ever experienced in my 30 years in law enforcement here in Washington, D.C.”

“The (Capitol Police) had a robust plan established to address anticipated First Amendment activities. “But make no mistake – these mass riots were not First Amendment activities, they were criminal riotous behavior,” said Sund, who later Thursday announced his resignation as Capitol Police chief, under pressure from Congressional leaders.

While Trump supporters were storming the Capitol in Washington, D.C., supporters of Trump and failed Republican gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp moved away from a rally at the Washington state Capitol and broke through the gate at the Governor’s Mansion in Olympia. There were no arrests and no riot police initially present at the mansion, unlike last year, when police in riot gear guarded the Capitol and Governor’s Mansion during Black Lives Matter protests.

The scene also differed to one in 2019, where Washington State Patrol troopers in riot gear forced Indigenous climate activists to leave the steps of the state Capitol.

When asked about the difference in security Wednesday to Black Lives Matter protests last year by Northwest News Network reporter Austin Jenkins Thursday morning, Gov. Jay Inslee said “those are very legitimate questions.”

“I have asked to get answers to those questions,” Inslee said.

The police stance ahead of the protest at the U.S. Capitol also contrasted with the police preparation seen at Black Lives Matter protests in Seattle over the summer. While police did deploy some tear gas while lawmakers were being evacuated inside the Capitol, police in Seattle were regularly prepared with riot gear and various crowd control weapons and used them on protesters multiple times – a point raised on Twitter by journalist Omari Salisbury, who livestreamed much of his Seattle protest coverage from in front of the police barricades.

“I guess it is only when you are protesting for social justice that you are met with tear gas, flash bangs, rubber bullets, pepper balls, and batons #SeattleProtest,” Salisbury tweeted.

In 1992, Chad-Henry Goller-Sojourner, a local artist and former AIDS awareness group ACT UP member, traveled to the White House to lay ashes of loved ones who died of AIDS on the lawn as part of ACT UP’s Ashes Action.

“(It was) bringing the dead to their doorstep,” Goller-Sojourner said.

But then, U.S. Park Police on horses were ready to meet them and push the crowd back. One officer on a horse nearly kicked and trampled him, Goller-Sojourner said.

That experience contrasted sharply with Wednesday’s images of Trump supporters carrying a Confederate flag and other symbols associated with white supremacist movements into the Capitol with little interference.

“The fact that it went there is proof that what we’re talking about is privilege, white supremacy,” Goller-Sojourner said. “Ideologies don’t manifest overnight. Over centuries they’re built.”

For educator Trish Dziko, seeing an image of a Trump supporter kicking his foot up on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk felt like an echo of white supremacy that she had witnessed and experienced throughout her life.

In thinking about what this moment meant for the next generation in this country, “what they’re seeing is that this is something sanctioned by the government,” Dziko said. “And when I say government, I say the president and all the elected officials who stayed silent or didn’t say anything when he was inciting this violence.”

Former King County executive Ron Sims, the first Black official elected to county government in Washington, said it was difficult for him to process what happened.

“I didn’t see anybody being restrained,” Sims said Wednesday evening. “It’s just like people’s anger was allowed to freely flow.”

It was a sign to him that something was broken in American democracy, Sims said.

“If I was giving us a grade today, I would say today we failed,” Sims said. “I want my kids and my grandkids and my grandnieces, I wanted them to have my passion that this is the greatest nation in the world, and it requires a lot of really hard work, but today it was just chaos.”

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter

Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.