‘It tells me that I am less’: History, racism hang over Capitol riots 

  • People listen as President Donald Trump speaks during a rally Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) Evan Vucci

  • Pro-Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Congress held a joint session Wednesday to ratify President-elect Joe Biden's 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump. A group of Republican senators said they would reject the Electoral College votes of several states unless Congress appointed a commission to audit the election results. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images/TNS) Getty Images — Samuel Corum

  • A mob riots at the U.S. Capitol in support of President Donald Trump on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Astrid Reicken For The Washington Post — Astrid Reicken

  • In this combination of photos, demonstrators, left, protest June 4, 2020, in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, over the death of George Floyd and on Jan. 6, 2021, supporters of President Donald Trump rally at same location. (AP Photos)

  • In this combination of photos, on June 3, 2020, demonstrators, left, protest the death of George Floyd at the U.S. Capitol in Washington and Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier Jan. 6, 2021, at the same location. (AP Photos) ap photos

  • In this combination of photos, on June 7, 2020, protesters participating in a Black Lives Matter rally, left, march to downtown Pittsburgh to protest the death of George Floyd and people listen as President Donald Trump speaks during a rally Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photos) ap photos

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/7/2021 10:05:05 PM
Modified: 1/7/2021 10:04:52 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — When hundreds of rioters broke into the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Wednesday, pushing past police to try to stop the certification of President Donald Trump’s defeat, people around the country watched in horror.

“It’s just so blatant,” Bethany Moreton, a history professor at Dartmouth College, said Thursday, calling the incident a “terrorist attempted coup.”

The incident drew attention and condemnation across the country and around the globe — Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, and several members of the Twin State delegation said Trump should be removed from office immediately for inciting the violence. Schools including Hanover High and Grantham Village School sent out letters to parents addressing the riots and outlining plans to discuss the incident with students.

And for many Black leaders and activists in the Upper Valley, the imagery, which included members of the mob carrying the Confederate flag into the Capitol itself, brought a painful symbolism to the forefront of any discussion.

“It tells me that I am less there,” Hanover activist Ed Taylor said. “To see it in the halls of Congress, in the place where I had to fight for my own freedom, fight to be considered human ... the symbolism is honestly frightening.”

Taylor was not alone. In the hours after the violent demonstrations, other Black residents around the Upper Valley grappled with the larger meaning of the imagery and the racial implications of the insurrection, which followed the early-morning runoff election victory of the Rev. Raphael Warnock, who will be the first Black senator from the state of Georgia.

“That’s the exemplification of Jim Crow and everything that followed Reconstruction,” state Rep. Kevin Christie, D-Hartford, said of the rioters with Confederate flags. “It has an impact on us all — white supremacy culture — it’s in the air we breathe.”

It was evident, too, in the way police responded to the violence Wednesday, which involved a largely white crowd, versus how law enforcement officers responded to Black Lives Matter protests over the summer, said Christie, who also serves on the Vermont Human Rights Commission.

He said that over 480 people were arrested during one weekend of protests in Minneapolis shortly after police there killed George Floyd in May — a stark difference from the 80 people who were arrested Wednesday in the Washington protests.

“Yesterday, our Capitol of the country was violated by extremists,” Christie said. “And they were on camera. So I’m having a very difficult time balancing my thoughts at the moment.”

The contrast in police response also stuck out to Allene Swienckowski, the chairwoman of the Hartford Committee on Racial Equity and Inclusion.

“One of the things that came into clear focus yesterday was just how this absolute riot was handled so differently from peaceful protests over the summer,” Swienckowski said, recalling how tear gas and rubber bullets were deployed in many protests over the summer. On Wednesday, she said she was shocked by images of Capitol Police taking selfies with rioters.

Moreton, the Dartmouth history professor, said the storming of the Capitol was reminiscent of mob protests in the decades after the Civil War, including the country’s only successful coup d’etat, when white supremacists in Wilmington, N.C., stormed City Hall in 1898, overthrew the democratically elected government, and killed dozens of Black residents.

Still, amid the pain of the Capitol riots, some activists said it’s important to keep moving forward.

“I have seen this type of behavior from this country before,” said Shirley Jefferson, the associate dean for student affairs and diversity at Vermont Law School who marched for civil rights in Selma, Ala., 55 years ago and remembers the events of what became known as Bloody Sunday. “It doesn’t make it right, but it doesn’t make me depressed. It makes me want to fight more.”

Christie had a similar takeaway, but it came with a reminder: The fight is a long one.

“This journey is a marathon, not a sprint. We’re not going to fix this tomorrow,” Christie said. “Keep an eye on the prize. ... That’s the only way we’ll get to the end.”

Anna Merriman can be reached at amerriman@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.

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