ATLANTA — As the siege on the U.S. Capitol unfolded Wednesday, a very real conversation took off on social media, among activists, and among people of color.
The suggestion from many: if the people who stormed the Capitol were part of a minority group, the response from authorities may have been different.
“I just thought back to all the protests I’ve been in, in the Black Lives Matter era - particularly in Atlanta and Louisville - and the response is nothing like we’re seeing at the capitol,” said Attorney Gerald Griggs.
As a long-time activist and Vice President of the Georgia NAACP, Griggs organized, and was a part of, many protests over the summer and fall in Atlanta revolving around social justice.
He didn’t mince words when talking about the attack on the capitol.
“If this was African-Americans in a group like this, with chatter online, they would have never even gotten past the reflection pond, let alone to the Capitol steps, and then in the rotunda, chasing a police officer up the stairs and then taking selfies in the [House] leader’s chair,” he said plainly. “It’s disheartening and angering.”
Hannah Gebresilassie a young Atlanta activist, who works with the Promote Positivity Movement, also spent months protesting in 2020. She echoed Grigg’s sentiment.
“If this were Black Lives Matter protests or our protests in Atlanta over the summer, we would have been shot, dead, pepper sprayed, or in jail.”
Photos: Trump supporters storm US capitol during Electoral College affirmation
Not long after the chaos on The Hill, a lengthy statement appeared on the official Black Lives Matter worldwide Twitter account.
“When Black people protest for our lives, we are met by the National Guard troops or police equipped with assault rifles, tear gas and battle helmets,” the statement read in part. “Make no mistake, if the protestors were Black, we would have been tear gassed, battered and perhaps shot.”
One woman was shot inside the Capitol, and later died. The circumstances surrounding the shooting remain unknown.
BLM also called for President Donald Trump to “stop fanning the flames of violence and lawlessness and unequivocally urge his white supremacist and terrorist followers to step down and retreat.” The group sued President Trump in June of 2020, accusing him of violating the First Amendment rights of protests who were forcibly cleared out of Lafayette Square near the White House, where Trump would later take a photo in front of a church holding a Bible.
Trump, who previously characterized Black Lives Matter protesters as "thugs," said on Twitter that the people involved in the riots Wednesday were "great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long."
President Trump did send a video message, calling for those in the Capitol to go home. However, it was quickly flagged, barred from retweets, and eventually removed from the site - and later from Facebook - for violating rules. In the message, Trump said “we love you, you’re very special” while also making false claims of election fraud.
On Wednesday, pro-Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, damaged property and violated several federal laws. To this, Griggs responded, “I’ve been in protests with people who have been charged with far less. Matter of fact, I just got cases dismissed from this past summer, and there were people who were merely charged with walking down the street.”
Speaking solely on Atlanta protests, Gebresilassie acknowledged some protests turned into riots in the late-night hours, particularly in the first few days after George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks were killed.
“Over the summer, when you saw some of that happening with people breaking into stores or doing that thing, that was a very small group of people, and it was clear they were not a part of Black Lives Matter protests, and they have different agendas," she said. "And maybe they were fighting for different things, but that’s not what Black Lives Matter represents. In today’s case there were dozens, hundreds of people doing that.”
She added she would love to see people who denounced any violence over the summer to apply the same vigor to what took place at the Capitol.
“They should be denounced ever more than Black Lives Matter protests. One woman lost her life due to this.”