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For New Yorkers Brutalized in Black Lives Matter Marches, Response at Capitol Brings Disbelief and Bitterness


Rachel Holliday Smith and Eileen Grench, THE CITY

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Protesters kneel along Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn during protests against the police-involved killing of George Floyd, June 2, 2020.
Protesters kneel along Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn during protests against the police-involved killing of George Floyd, June 2, 2020. | Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

For many Americans, Wednesday’s insurrection at the Capitol proved shocking.

For many New Yorkers who were harassed, arrested or brutalized while marching in support of the Black Lives Matter movement last year, the treatment of the pro-Trump fanatics came as a “slap in the face,” said Roque Rodriguez.

The Sunnyside-based community organizer, who has been protesting in support of BLM and immigrant rights since May, reported being attacked by police during a peaceful post-Election Day protest. 

On Wednesday, he watched in disbelief as members of the right-wing mob were “physically assaulting police officers, looting in the Capitol building.”

“If you can see the way that they are treating the quote-unquote ‘protesters’ in DC, and then see the countless videos of how the New York protesters were treated and say that we are being treated the same, and fairly, then you are a wildly dishonest person,” Rodriguez added.

Stark Contrasts

His reaction echoes the frustrations of many New Yorkers who experienced police brutality during protests in the city during the past tumultuous year.

Devin Khan — who was among those struck by a police officer who drove an NYPD SUV into a Brooklyn crowd during a BLM protest in June — said he was “shocked” by the images of unchecked insurrectionists invading Washington, where he grew up.

Roque Rodriguez says an NYPD officer repeatedly punched him during a protest in Manhattan, Nov. 6, 2020.

In New York, he said, “Over the summer you saw people protesting in the street and get tear-gassed or beat,” he said, referring to widespread use of pepper spray by cops. “It’s really almost comical to see the contrast of how the crowds are controlled.”

If BLM supporters had stormed the Capitol instead of violent backers of President Donald Trump, Khan envisions a decidedly different reaction from law enforcement.

“I don’t even think they would have gotten to the gates,” he said. 

At least 52 people were arrested in connection with the attack on the Capitol — which left four dead, including a woman who was shot — Washington police told reporters.

NYPD officers drove vehicles into protesters in June. Devin Khan is in a white shirt near the top of the left SUV.

More than 40 people were arrested in the first night of protests in New York after the death of George Floyd. Ultimately, hundreds would be arrested over weeks of near-daily protests.

“It’s beyond any imagination,” said Caroline Gombé, co-founder of the New York-based Black Women’s March, which has been protesting in New York and Washington for seven months.

“People got arrested. People were beaten. People were sprayed, maced.… There are people whose lives are not alright. There are people who have serious, serious charges. They need a lot of money for lawyers. Imagine how those people look at that,” she said, referring to the mayhem in Washington.

“They did nothing but protest and they have to deal with all that,” she added. “And then you watch TV and you see a white guy just walking in the Capitol, like, sitting on the [Senate] president’s chair. It’s bitter.”

Dounya Zayer testifies before the state attorney general about an NYPD officer shoving her to the ground.

Dounya Zayer, who was hospitalized after being shoved to the ground by a Brooklyn cop in a May 29 incident caught on video, said she was left feeling “angry and sad” by what she watched on Wednesday.

“Where were the rubber bullets? Where were the mass arrests? Where were the cops beating the s—t out of the rioters? Where was any of it?” she asked. 

“It sucks to say that seeing that would have made me feel a little better. It’s sad. But it’s even sadder to see that if you’re white and say ‘Go Trump,’ you get a pass at anything.”

THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

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