Editor’s Note: This story has been updated from its previous version.
As a mob of supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, many Hoosiers watched from home. They watched as a predominately white crowd fought with D.C. police, breaking windows of a federal building and eventually walking through the “beacon of democracy,” taking selfies at Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s desk before eventually being allowed to disperse.
For Black Hoosiers, the attack on the nation’s capital was yet another reminder that the Black experience in America is vastly different from the white experience.
“The response was totally different from Black Lives Matter protests to what we saw yesterday,” Willie Fowlkes said. “As Black people, we wouldn’t have gotten close to the Capitol, and there would have been a lot more arrests.”
Both Fowlkes and his wife, Angie, feel the police in D.C. should have been better prepared given the protest was planned in advance, and Republicans, now distancing themselves from Trump, should have seen this violence coming.
Despite extensive damage to the building — and the fact the group broke into a federal building — only 69 people were arrested immediately following the riot, 47 of whom for violating D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s 6 p.m. curfew. In Indianapolis, over 135 protesters were arrested over a weekend of protests in May 2020 following the deaths of George Floyd and Dreasjon Reed.
“If it was a Black protest, there would have been a lot more arrests,” Fowlkes said.
Connie Hall, a 15-year Air Force veteran, was dismayed by what she saw as she watched the news.
“It was a domestic terrorist attack, that’s what it was,” Hall said. “It was disgusting and disgraceful.”
Ashli Babbit, a 35-year-old Air Force veteran, was the only person killed during the attack on the Capitol. Babbit was shot in the neck by a plainclothes police officer as she tried to break into the building. Three other participants in the riot died of medical emergencies.
“You’re always a soldier,” Hall said of Babbit. “She took that oath and she knew the importance of the oath. [Babbit’s legacy] will be what she did yesterday. She was a domestic terrorist.”
Despite her anger toward the insurrectionists — and the congressmen objecting to the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s win — Hall still believes America is the best country in the world. She notes, however, white supremacy is a long-standing issue and Black people are treated much differently.
“If those protesters were Black, we would be seeing a Capitol building full of dead bodies,” Hall said.
Farida Falke, 24, said she felt a whirlwind of emotions watching news coverage of the insurrection. On one hand, she felt something like this couldn’t happen in America. But as a Black woman, she wasn’t surprised by the extent of the damage the insurrectionists were able to cause.
“It was night and day compared to how [police] treated them versus Black Lives Matter protesters,” Falke said.
Falke called her father — who works for the National Red Cross and has lived abroad in war zones — to get his perspective on the issue.
Both Falke and her father agree America is no longer the country it once was and is no longer an example to the rest of the world. Falke feels this is especially the case since the November 2020 election.
As she listens to politicians from both parties call for unity in America, she isn’t so sure coming together is possible.
“I honestly think we could see civil war before we see unity,” Falke said. “Just with the current climate, it doesn’t seem to be going away, and the tension right now is being provoked from the top.”
Denunciation of violence — by some
In a statement Jan. 6, Gov. Eric Holcomb condemned the insurrection.
“It’s both saddening and sickening to watch a mob devolve into thinking their rules would ever replace the rules of law,” Holcomb said. “I unequivocally condemn the violence at the U.S. Capitol that we are now witnessing. Passion, patriotism and love for our nation should always and only be expressed in constructive ways that seek to honor the ideals on which our nation was founded. Any means of violence runs counter to who we are and is never acceptable.”
Like many controversies throughout the Trump administration, including the leaked phone call between the president and Georgia’s secretary of state suggesting an attempt to commit voter fraud, Holcomb stopped short of condemning the president for his role in the attempted coup.
Todd Rokita, who was sworn in as Indiana’s 44th attorney general on Jan. 11, took a different approach. In a tweet — following Twitter’s permanent suspension of Trump — Rokita said he “will always be for our President.”
Rokita later said he sent the message as a “test of free speech” to see if his account would be suspended.
Rep. André Carson had just ended a Zoom meeting with fellow members of the Congressional Black Caucus when the attack began. Carson condemned the insurrection and called on Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, which could oust the president if a majority of the cabinet agrees. As the House of Representatives debated the measure Jan. 12, Carson said Trump has to go.
“I would hope that Vice President Pence would do what’s right for the country without congressional action, but I don’t think we can wait on it,” Carson said. “I would also support articles of impeachment. I support impeaching Donald Trump a second time, simply because the violence and the deadly insurrection he unleased is traitorous sedition. This deserves impeachment to protect our country from further damage.”
Trump was impeached for the second time Jan. 13 with a vote of 232 to 197 in the House of Representatives. Trump is the first president to be impeached twice, and one of just three to face impeachment.
It was discovered Jan. 12 that a direct threat was made against Carson during the insurrection. A “good” and “bad” list from one of the insurrectionists said that Carson is one of two Muslims in the House. (There are actually three Muslim representatives.)
“Sadly, as a Black man and a Muslim fighting for equality, I have often been the target of death threats by domestic terrorists,” Carson said in a statement. “For years, I have warned my colleagues about the serious threat to national security by white nationalist domestic terrorists. … We must all get the facts about these attacks, including those complicit in their planning and execution, and we must work together to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.”
Carson said he has called for thorough investigations into security failures that allowed the Capitol building to be breached.
Pence was also an intended target in the attack. Videos from the insurrection show a mob chanting “Hang Mike Pence.” Pence and his family were moved to a secure location during the attack.
“We defended our Capitol today,” Pence said after Congress reconvened Jan. 6. “And we will always be grateful to the men and women who stayed at their post to defend this historic place. To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today: You did not win. Violence never wins. Freedom wins. And this is still the people’s house. … Let’s get back to work.”
Pence’s refusal to protest the election results — along with telling Trump the vice president doesn’t have “unilateral authority” to overthrow election results — marked the first time he took a stand against the president.
An activist view
While many national and state government leaders expressed shock that white insurrectionists were able to seize the Capitol building, local activists and organizers in Indianapolis knew all along the differences between a protest organized by predominately white participants versus one by people of color.
Jessica Louise, an organizer for Indy10 Black Lives Matter, recalls being tear-gassed over the summer while taking part in downtown protests. Louise said the lack of response from Capitol police proves police officers are more likely to de-escalate situations when white people are involved as opposed to Black-led demonstrations.
Louise said the differences in the treatment of Black Lives Matter protesters compared to the insurrectionists in D.C. is “steeped in anti-Blackness” and furthers the argument that policing cannot be reformed.
“How do you reform an agency that allows people to overrun federal property? The D.C. police have a $578 million budget, and even with that number of resources, they weren’t prepared for this event, which was planned in advance,” Louise said. “This isn’t a system that can be reformed, it needs to be defunded and dismantled and have that money funneled into community groups.”
Carson, a former law enforcement officer, said reform is possible if departments nationwide have greater levels of accountability and transparency, including making sure agencies are aware of white supremacists in their ranks.
“We want to make sure there are internal levers of control within agencies in terms of the bigots and those who sympathize with white nationalist movements,” Carson said.
“We need to make sure they’re filtered out of policing agencies, so we never see an attack like this again.”
As an Indigenous woman, Stephanie Big-Eagle knows all too well how white supremacy permeates nearly every facet of American life, including policing.
An activist since 2008, Big-Eagle protested the creation of the Dakota Access Pipeline in the Standing Rock protests of 2016. The group wanted to ensure the pipeline would not encroach sovereign land, including a burial ground, occupied by the Dakota Sioux.
Big-Eagle, who did social media coverage for the group, recalled being tear-gassed — in violation of a treaty — despite a peaceful assembly as well as military helicopters hovering close enough to blow her hair.
“I wasn’t surprised they used force against us,” Big-Eagle said. “People of color are seen as a threat when they start to empower themselves and assert their rights. They are legit scared of us.”
Big-Eagle was involved in the local Black Lives Matter protests, and said she’s grown used Black and brown protesters being forced to put “everything they have” on the line to fight for basic human rights. There has never been a time in history, she said, that people of color stood up for their rights without being assaulted by police.
Ironically, Republican state Sen. James Tomes authored Senate Bill 34, which would prohibit anyone convicted of rioting from receiving certain state and local benefits and from being released on bail and would come with sentence enhancements. Shortly after the Jan. 6 insurrection, a committee voted to not have a hearing on the bill.
“It’s interesting the timing of it,” Louise said. “It was intended to target Black and brown protesters but seeing as the attack was committed by a mostly white mob — including some sitting senators — they decided to drop it.”
Sen. Tomes has not responded to a request for comment.
While several participants in the insurrection have been identified and arrested, there are still concerns about safety in the nation’s capital and around the country. With threats for future attacks visible on Parler — an alt-right online forum — some Hoosiers are concerned for their safety and the security at the Statehouse.
Ron Galaviz, chief public information officer for Indiana State Police (ISP), said ISP is “well-positioned” to provide security for the Statehouse and surrounding campuses, but could not disclose any security or operational plans.
Rachel Hoffmeyer, press secretary for Holcomb, said the “state is prepared” if a situation arises, and ISP is monitoring the latest intelligence. A spokesperson for IMPD said the department is regularly monitoring national and local events that may impact the safety of Hoosiers and asks that anyone with information about a potential threat report it to Crime Stoppers of Central Indiana at 317-262-TIPS.
With calls for unity coming from both parties, Carson believes it’s up to Republicans to bridge the gap dividing America and prevent future violence.
“Those on the Republican side who are embarrassed … they are now speaking out and we need to bring them to the table and they need to speak to their folks who empathize with these very radical domestic terrorists and make sure this doesn’t happen again. White supremacy has laid at the foundation of this country since the inception of this country, and it’s important my friends on the other side of the aisle are encouraged to do the right thing and speak out against members of their party who want to perpetuate these un-American movements.”
Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.