A U.S. Capitol Police officer watches as Trump supporters gather in a hallway near the Senate chamber in the Capitol on Wednesday. Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press

Watching the mob of white nationalists and Trump loyalists surge past a complacent Capitol police force on Wednesday, Nathan Allen recognized a truth familiar to Black and brown people across the nation being reinforced once again.

“You and I know if it was a group of Black people who tried to storm the capitol, we wouldn’t have made it to the steps. It would have been a blood bath,” said Allen, 36, who spent the summer protesting police brutality and racism in southern Maine and was pepper-sprayed by police during a protest in Portland. “It’s two different Americas.”

Allen was among millions in the country who stood toe to toe with local officers last summer to demand that police stop killing Black people, only to be met with harsher treatment than those who attempted to undo an election in broad daylight on national television, he said. To be black and to protest is to be feared, while white people seem to get a pass.

Fellow protesters try to help Nathan Allen of Biddeford after he was pepper-sprayed in the face during a Black Lives Matter protest in Portland on the June 1. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“I don’t ever want to have another conversation ever again about white privilege in this country,” he said. “They were taking selfies with the (Capitol) police! It’s disgusting and it’s sad and it’s madness.”

In one video from the day, capitol police stood idly by as President Trump’s supporters filed out of the building, including some who vocally threatened to come back armed. Other Capitol police officers were filmed helping the rioters down the steps. Earlier, some of them erected a gallows on the Capitol lawn. Some carried white supremacist banners, or wore merchandise calling for civil war or the extermination of Jews.

Lawmakers are calling for an investigation into why Capitol police were unprepared for the event, which was promoted openly online for weeks as a planned inflection point designed to disrupt the final, ceremonial process of validating the November election.

In the minds of many throughout Maine and the nation – including President-elect Joe Biden – Wednesday was proof of the disproportionate price incurred for protesting while Black, and the unequal, opposite consequences for the mostly white mob that rampaged through the Capitol.

“No one can tell me that if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protesting yesterday, they wouldn’t have been treated very, very differently than the mob of thugs that stormed the Capitol,” Biden said during a news conference Thursday. “We all know that’s true, and it’s unacceptable. Totally unacceptable.”

Black POWER Maine, a local anti-racist activist group, released a statement calling out the contrast of how police used mass arrests during racial justice demonstrations last summer, and how Capitol police handled the mostly white crowd in Washington, D.C.

“The actions of the domestic terrorists at the Capitol building put on full display for the world to see who the police choose to be violent towards,” Black POWER Maine said in the statement. “The storming of the Capitol was not white privilege, it is white power walking around in plain sight. Black POWER is sickened but not surprised to see the lengths white supremacy will go to protect itself.”

Portland City Councilor Pious Ali dismissed the idea that police in Washington would have been overwhelmed by the crowd that arrived. In June 2018, Ali said, nearly 600 people were taken into custody for protesting the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance immigration policy when they refused to leave a Senate office building.

For that act of civil disobedience, Capitol police arrested 575 for unlawfully demonstrating, the New York Times reported.

“They had the people to do it, they had the buses to do it, and they had the jail,” Ali said. “And then (Wednesday), you saw an overt display of white violence. They can’t say that they were overwhelmed, because if they could arrest 600 people, they should have been able to arrest more people yesterday.”

At best, he said, some Capitol officers were overrun. At worst, they permitted the sacking of Congress.

“I am looking at a system at large,” he said. “Yesterday’s actions clearly show how the system treats, as I said, white supremacists unleashing white violence, right in front of the police officers.”

Historians say that the ideal of racial equality in policing is a relatively new concept. Until the civil rights legislation of the 1960s, police used their monopoly on state-sanctioned violence to preserve social and racial hierarchies.

First under the guise of fugitive slave patrols, and then during reconstruction as “Black Codes,” and most recently with 20th century Jim Crow laws, police were part of a system that prevented Black Americans from sharing in the opportunities and wealth of white society.

Maine Assistant House Majority Leader Rachel Talbot Ross, who has made racial justice a key priority of the upcoming legislative session, said that watching the capitol under siege stirred in her generations of racial pain and grief.

“Like many Mainers and Americans … I felt triggered not only by the violent nature of the actions taking place, but by the knowledge that our nation’s president was responsible for it,” Talbot Ross said in a statement. “As an African American, this is a trauma and grief I know too well; it lives in my body and has painfully been part of my very existence generationally. The grief is also present because this event showed the fragility of our sacred chambers of Congress.”

Talbot Ross urged lawmakers and police officials to pursue and prosecute those responsible.

“Maine is not immune to the hateful sentiments expressed during this riot,” she said. “All across our country these sentiments still echo from the very birth of our nation. We as a people must be willing to be honest with ourselves, and recognize the racism that exists around us and begin honest conversations with each other in order to bring these issues to light.”

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