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Police response at the Capitol brings claims of ‘white privilege’

The treatment of the violent mob at the Capitol by law enforcement versus the heavy-handed tactics employed on peaceful protests over racial justice has been widely talked about since Wednesday. Amna Nawaz spoke with Ibram X. Kendi, director of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University, to learn more.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Let's turn now to another key part of the fallout, how police responded and treated the mob that stormed the Capitol.

    My "NewsHour" colleagues and I witnessed it in real time, reporting from outside and around the Capitol all day yesterday.

    And it was clear that, as rioters were breaching the barriers and breaking into the Capitol, and then walking out very few were being arrested. Now, that treatment was very different from what we have seen reporting on other protests, including, and most strikingly, Black Lives Matter protests this year.

    And that distinction has sparked a new discussion.

    With us for more on that is Ibram X. Kendi. He's the director and founder of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University. He's the author of "How to Be an Antiracist" and the upcoming book "Four Hundred Souls." He's also a contributor for CBS News.

    Ibram, welcome back to the "NewsHour." And thanks for being with us.

    I would like to start with the events of yesterday because it was so surreal for so many people watching. You were watching in real time as well. What were you thinking?

  • Ibram X. Kendi:

    I think my biggest takeaway was that, in many ways, we saw white privilege on display in the U.S. Capitol.

    You had many people who are Black, who are Latinx, who are Native, you had many people looking at what those white domestic terrorists were doing and were thinking that, if they had been Black, they would not only — they would have certainly been arrested, but people believe that they would have even been killed.

    And so I think the fact that they were able to lay siege on the U.S. Capitol, and in many cases walk out without being arrested, even guided out by the police, really, for me, was white privilege on display.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    There are a lot of comparisons being made, as I mentioned in the introduction, between what we saw unfold yesterday and the way that law enforcement has responded to the Black Lives Matter protests over this summer and a number of other protests.

    The split-screen images, when you look at them, they are just striking. And we should mention, there is a distinction. We're talking about the Capitol Police here, which is separate and unique. It's not like other metropolitan police departments.

    But this remains, this distinction, and this comparison remains. What do you make of the way people are talking about those two side by side?

  • Ibram X. Kendi:

    I'm so glad that people are recognizing that extreme double standard, the ways in which police officers are able to show extreme restraint for violent white terrorists who are laying siege on the U.S. Capitol, while they do the very opposite oftentimes for peaceful demonstrators who are protesting against racism and police violence.

    And let me say, when I say peaceful, I'm not just sort of saying that without data. I mean, one study that analyzed upwards of 8,000 demonstrations last year that were demonstrating against racism found that 93 percent of those demonstrations were peaceful.

    And I'm a professor. If you get a 93, that's an A.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    There are some people who look at the events yesterday and say, this wasn't about race. This was about politics. These were people who were protesting an election result.

    What do you say to that?

  • Ibram X. Kendi:

    Well, first and foremost, I say that, in many case — in most cases, they're arguing that votes cast in Milwaukee, in Detroit, in Atlanta, in Philadelphia, cities with large Black populations, in Phoenix, another city with a large Black and Latinx population, that these votes and these voters were legal, and that, indeed, the election was stolen from their president.

    I mean, you don't have to say Black and Latinx and Native to be speaking about race. And, indeed, the grandfather clauses in poll taxes and literacy tests had no racial language in it. The history of racism in this country oftentimes does not speak directly and openly about race, but we know race and racism when we see it and hear it.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We have reported on the number of people who have been arrested so far as a result of the action.

    We know D.C. police say that they're investigating. Federal officials have said they're looking for some of the people. There's scores of video and still imagery evidence for them to go through. But in the way of accountability, what do you think needs to happen next?

  • Ibram X. Kendi:

    Well, I mean, I think those of us who study the history of racism, and even those of us who study the history of white domestic terrorism, one of the things that we find is, again and again, over and over, those who engage in this form of terror are simply not held accountable.

    I mean, the Confederates were not held accountable at the scale that they should have. Many of the people who engaged in lynchings were, of course, not held accountable. Police officers who kill people in cold blood are not held accountable.

    And then these white people who lay siege on the U.S. Capitol, will they be held accountable? I mean, that's the question that people are asking. Will the president of the United States, who riled them up, who called them to D.C., will he be held accountable? Will other Republican congress men and women who also aided and abetted, will they be held accountable? That's the questions that we're asking.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Just have a few seconds left. And I apologize I have to ask you a big question. But you have written so extensively on the issues we wrestle with, on the institutional and everyday ways that racism is perpetuated here.

    If there's a lesson to be learned about who we are from yesterday, what is that? What can we carry forward?

  • Ibram X. Kendi:

    That what we saw at the U.S. Capitol is part of us. That is who we are. It's not all of us, but it's part of us.

    It's part of America. There's a long history of white domestic terror laying siege on American democracy. And we have to own that and accept that, because that's the only way we can rid this country of it.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is Ibram X. Kendi, author of the upcoming book "Four Hundred Souls."

    Always good to talk to you. Thank you.

  • Ibram X. Kendi:

    It's great to talk to you. Thank you.

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