The comparatively small variety of arrests after a mob stormed the Capitol left many environmental activists shaken on Thursday — and wanting solutions. Why did so many individuals who introduced destruction into the home of American democracy merely stroll away after doing a lot harm, not simply to a constructing however to the nation’s sense of itself?
The Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., a minister and neighborhood activist who heads the Hip Hop Caucus, a civil and human rights group, known as the sight of the rioters being led out of the Capitol seemingly with out repercussions “heartbreaking.” Mr. Yearwood has an extended historical past of protest on a variety of points and has been arrested, and even overwhelmed, because of this.
“We know we’re going to go through that punishment” as a part of preventing for cleaner vitality, for environmental justice, for a greater world, he mentioned. “Up until yesterday, I thought, ‘This is how it’s done. You stop business, you’re going to be arrested, you’re going to be treated this way,” he mentioned.
“Yesterday changed all that,” he mentioned. Some rioters carried weapons, injured police and dedicated acts of vandalism, and “certain police allowed them to walk away.”
“There’s two worlds,” he mentioned. “And we’ve got to fix that.”
Jacquelyn Gill, a scientist on the University of Maine’s local weather change institute, mentioned on Twitter that “More people were arrested in the nonviolent 2018 climate change protests at the Capitol than were arrested in the violent insurrection at the Capitol in 2021.”
Washington protests have lengthy been part of local weather change activism and different actions, and so have arrests.
In the autumn of 2019 and into January 2020, the actress Jane Fonda attended weekly protests often called Fire Drill Fridays to convey consideration to local weather change. Ms. Fonda was arrested 5 instances, as have been different celebrities together with Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen. In all, greater than 600 arrests occurred over the course of these protests alone, from 16 on the first demonstration to greater than 300 on the ultimate demonstration on Jan. 11, 2020.
Bill McKibben, a author and activist who mentioned he has been arrested 4 instances in Washington alone, and a half-dozen instances at different protests, known as nonviolent civil disobedience based mostly on the examples of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi and the suffragists “one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century.”
“At its best, it catches people’s hearts,” he mentioned.
And central to the thought of peaceable civil disobedience is the willingness to just accept a penalty, together with arrest.
By comparability, he mentioned, the storming of the Capitol on Wednesday concerned violence and vandalism, and a few members of the mob carried weapons and zip-tie handcuffs. “These guys were intent on inflicting suffering and punishment on other people — it’s the opposite of civil disobedience,” Mr. McKibben mentioned. “And oddly, it was met with the opposite reaction.”
Of course, confronting a violent, doubtlessly armed mob isn’t the identical as coping with orderly protesters who could intend to get arrested, and the police may effectively be reluctant to escalate confrontations that would simply result in bloodshed and lack of life.
Even so, the apparently gentle remedy of Wednesday’s protesters troubled Kate Ruane, senior legislative counsel on the American Civil Liberties Union, who mentioned that the remedy of the predominantly white crowd was way more mild than the police response to most of the antiracism protesters and local weather change activists of shade, together with the clearing final 12 months of Lafayette Square in Washington with chemical irritants and power, and the remedy of Native American activists and others opposing pipeline tasks.
“It is incumbent upon all of us,” she mentioned, to check the photographs from the Capitol riot with the photographs of the remedy of previous protesters “and ask probing questions about the difference.”
Many states, she added, try to stiffen fees for protests involving infrastructure, “all aimed at deterring people expressing messages that those in power do not like.”
President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. made an analogous commentary on Thursday. “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,” he mentioned. “We all know that’s true, and it is unacceptable. Totally unacceptable.”
Mr. Yearwood was arrested final 12 months in Washington together with Mr. McKibben for a sit-down protest in a Chase Bank; they have been making an attempt to attract consideration to the monetary pipeline between main monetary establishments and the fossil gasoline business. Always, he mentioned, the aim is “being nonviolent, being as peaceful as possible,” and dealing with the police, “recognizing the job they have to do” in restoring order.
The comparatively lenient response to the overwhelmingly white protesters on Wednesday, he mentioned, “was the epitome of white supremacy,” and a harmful precedent for the way forward for protest within the United States. He mentioned he feared that sooner or later, younger activists would inform him when he suggested a nonviolent path that “all the peace stuff you talk about, Rev and Bill, that doesn’t work.”
“And that leads to destruction,” he mentioned.