© 2021 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Some Point Out Differences In Police Treatment Of Capitol Riot And BLM Protests

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The majority of the armed rioters that laid siege to the U.S. Capitol were white. They trashed it and then they walked out. Very few were arrested. And the comparisons to how peaceful marchers were treated at this summer's racial justice protests came swiftly. One of those people watching yesterday was Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, professor of African American studies at Princeton. Welcome to the program.

KEEANGA-YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: Thank you. Glad to be here.

CORNISH: There was a lot of chatter online about the idea - I'll just say the sentence goes something like, if these protesters were Black, dot, dot, dot. And how did you hear that or participate that? Did you feel that as you were watching the images?

TAYLOR: I think that is obvious that if the protesters were Black or if the protesters were, you know, protesting police brutality, a U.S. war or something like that, that they would have been brutalized, that they never would have been in the position to siege - lay siege to the Capitol in the first place. The police would have had a completely different reaction to them, as we saw all across the country this past summer in response to Black Lives Matter demonstrations. In the Capitol itself, we saw National Guard. We saw people in military uniforms with military-grade weaponry pointed at Black Lives Matter activists.

CORNISH: So this violent insurrection fell on the same day that a Black man was elected to represent Georgia in the U.S. Senate. So how did you process that happening at the same time?

TAYLOR: Well, I think it's a demonstration of what has continued to happen in this country, which is there is a deep political polarization. And what that looks like is that you have the growth and confidence of the right that was sort of culminated yesterday. But you also have the growth and confidence of the left, which we saw the culmination of really in the summer's protests that Joe Biden benefited from by winning the presidency. But we saw it reactivated again in the Georgia Senate election. And so both things are happening simultaneously. And I think part of that is because there is an enormous political vacuum in this country. And in some ways, there's a race - there's a race to fill it. And I think the left has a problem in that we lack the kind of political apparatus that the hard right has through the Republican Party.

CORNISH: In what way? I mean, when you look at this past election, someone might say that the Democratic Party has a really strong apparatus right now.

TAYLOR: Well, it remains to be seen because the electing these two people and flipping the Senate to the Democrats doesn't in and of itself change these dynamics. What matters is what they do with it. Are the Democrats going to continue down this road of bipartisanship, of trying to work with an almost openly white supremacist Republican Party, or are they going to actually assert their new authority is the big question, not just can they win the election? Democrats have shown that they can win elections, but what they do with the political power that has been bestowed to them is always the question.

CORNISH: Some of the fallout from this week will be a lot of hand-wringing about why people behaved the way they did and how to move forward. What's the response to the instinct by many to say, look, in order for the country to heal, it's going to mean having conversations, having conversations where you don't call the Republican Party white supremacists? What's your response to that?

TAYLOR: There can be no moving forward or healing without the truth. And we have got to stop playing this game of this - these are just random individuals. There's no culpability. There's personal responsibility. And we have to recognize the truth for what it is. Donald Trump yesterday incited a riot at the Capitol of the United States, all but went to the Capitol himself and engaged in this kind of violence. At some point, those who are responsible for this concentrated within the Republican Party and concentrated around its periphery must be forced to accept responsibility for this.

There needs to be some level of political punishment delivered to these people through expulsion or whatever the mechanism is, because this is the classic definition of terrorism - using violence to produce a political outcome that you desire. And so to just say we need to turn the page or we need to, you know, shift the focus somewhere other than the parties responsible for this contributes to the problem that we are witnessing right now.

CORNISH: That's Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, professor of African American studies at Princeton. Thank you so much for your time.

TAYLOR: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.