Police response to Capitol Hill riot rooted in white supremacy

Manitoba community organizer Nampande Londe says "what happened on Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol building has made blatantly obvious what Black people" have long known: "The only thing police are intended to serve and protect is white supremacy."

Black Lives Matter demonstrators treated differently, violently, community organizer says

Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump are met by Capitol Police officers outside the Senate Chamber in the Capitol building on Jan. 6 in Washington. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/The Associated Press)

Call it a riot. Call it insurrection. Call it treason. No matter what you call it, what happened on Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol building has made blatantly obvious what Black people have long screamed at the top of our lungs: The only thing police are intended to serve and protect is white supremacy.

White people know this too; that's why the mob at Capitol Hill didn't even fear the police. Some brought their own guns, even Molotov cocktails. They weren't covering their faces (in a pandemic) or attempting to avoid being identified. 

And why should they?

Police even appeared to take selfies with them. No detainment. No beatings. No rubber bullets. 

There's no need to question whether Black Lives Matter protesters would have been treated differently. We have endless footage that shows them being treated differently — violently — by the same police forces, outside the same building.

Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police officers detain a man as they clear the entire area around Black Lives Matter Plaza during racial inequality protests near the White House on June 23, 2020. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

We've all seen the images of police facing unarmed, peaceful BLM protesters, in full riot gear, guns cocked and ready. And yet, when up against armed insurrectionists who had been openly boasting online about violently overturning the election results? I could hardly even tell they were police. They looked more like crossing guards.

Maybe the police didn't expect the crowd to get violent and that's why they were unprepared. This, too, is racially motivated, fuelled by the white supremacist myth that Black people are innately violent and dangerous, while white people are harmless and "civilized."

The truth is that Black protesters would never ever even attempt to breach Capitol building security, let alone smash their way through windows and doors and storm in, flipping tables and breaking up signs to take home as souvenirs. 

What happened had been brewing for a long time- Nampande Londe

It's unthinkable. There's no way they would come through it alive. The fact that white supremacists did exactly that, all while bragging and posting it all over social media? Utterly unsurprising.

The duplicity of the police — the very same police who shot rubber bullets at Black Lives Matter protesters just six months ago — makes it clear that white supremacy is not about any individuals or their choices or behaviours. 

Riot police stand guard near Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington on Dec. 13, 2020. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

It's about institutions. People at all levels, from the police who took selfies with protesters to those in the Defence Department who initially denied the request from Congress to bring in the National Guard, facilitated the infiltration of the U.S. Capitol building.

What happened had been brewing for a long time, fuelled by people who thought it served their political interests, ignored by people who didn't take it seriously. 

More importantly, it's unlikely that it's over. 

Some arrests have been made, some charges have been laid, but most who participated walked away without consequences and without any change to their beliefs or sense of entitlement.

Some described the scene as embarrassing — an armed mob goaded by the elected president to attempt to violently overturn the election results. 

We have people in Canada, Manitoba and Winnipeg who believe what those insurrectionists believe- Nampande Londe

Surely, they say, this cannot be America, the supposed leader of the free world and champion of democracy.

For Canadians, this scene needs to serve as an ear-piercing alarm bell. 

We cannot afford to continue to do what we are comfortable doing, which is to stand back and watch in self-righteous judgment what our ignorant neighbours are doing, reassuring ourselves that we are somehow better. 

We can no longer make excuses as we see similar sentiments brewing here. 

The fact is that Canada and the U.S. are rooted in the same poisoned soil, founded on the genocide and enslavement of Indigenous and Black peoples. 

Our institutions — not just the police but the media, government, health care, schools, corporations, military — operate with the same duplicity as the U.S. Capitol police. They are structured to uplift white supremacy, and they will continue to do so, as long as nothing is done about it. 

Just as Canadian institutions mirror those in the U.S., so too do we have people in Canada, Manitoba and Winnipeg who believe what those insurrectionists believe. 

These people could, under the right circumstances, be moved to show it through violence. After all, didn't we think there was absolutely no way we could ever have anti-mask rallies here? We thought we were too educated, too civilized. Too Canadian. Different. Better.

Yet I need look no further than down the street I grew up on, where one of my neighbours put up a "Make America Great Again" Trump-Pence sign in 2016, for proof that some Winnipeggers drink that same Kool-Aid. 

For goodness' sake, the founder of the Proud Boys is Canadian Gavin McInnes.

The image of the U.S. Capitol being stormed by armed insurrectionists is a mirror that Canadians must be willing to look into. 

It reveals exactly where we are headed, if we do not put in the work to live up to our ideals.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.


About the Author

Nampande Londe is a local artist, community organizer, healer and host of the upcoming podcast Black Witch on the Prairie, which encourages listeners to reclaim their personal power and get involved in shaping their community. She is also the creator of the Instagram page and hashtag #ithappensinWinnipeg, a digital archive of first-hand accounts of anti-Black violence experienced by Black people in Winnipeg.