Pittsburgh Activist Says U.S. Capitol Mob Was ‘Like White Privilege On Display’

On today's program: Pittsburgh activist and CEO of 1Hood media Jasiri X reflects on the law enforcement response to the U.S. Capitol insurrection compared to Black Lives Matter protests over the summer; State Representative Russ Diamond explains why he believes districts should elect appellate court judges, a practice others say would reduce voter’s participation in the judicial system.

Activist Jasiri X on law enforcement’s response to Capitol insurrection and Black Lives Matter protests

(0:00 - 6:30) 

A long version of this interview is available on our website here.

More than 20,000 National Guard troops are in Washington, D.C. to make sure tomorrow’s inauguration is secure. Security officials fear a repeat of the events on January 6, when Right-wing extremists stormed the U.S. Capitol, disrupting the certification of election results.

Five people died in the attack.

Soon after, social justice advocates, politicians and reporters noted a difference in how this violent mob was handled versus Black Lives Matter protests from last summer in front of the White House. 

Last year, Pittsburgh also saw a mix of protests, some calling for racial justice and others protesting the election results. 

“If there’s one that like, Black people understand is that, historically, when white people feel disenfranchised, oppressed in whatever way they see, the response is almost always violent,” says Jasiri X,  a Pittsburgh-based activist, founder and CEO of 1Hood Media

He says that watching the insurrection was, “like white privilege on display in terms of how weak the response by police was.” 

“The fact that you saw videos of police officers waving folks in, taking selfies with protestors, opening barriers: it was shocking,” says Jasiri X.

He says even the Capitol Police lack of preparation indicates the difference in how law enforcement treated the pro-Trump mob and Black Lives Matter protestors.

“We go out there with signs and water, we’re not in paramilitary gear, and the police came out in full SWAT regalia,” says Jasiri X. “In Pittsburgh, I remember we saw mini tanks, police had like, tanks and tear gas, all these things for basically a group of Black teenagers leading us on a protest against police brutality.”

 Jasiri X says he’s normally optimistic things will get better, but right now, he’s not so sure. 

“As crazy as this might sound, it wasn’t shocking enough,” says Jasiri X. “Five people died, including an officer, and that might not have been enough to wake people up to the reality of what’s going on right now.”

State Republicans are advancing a bill to elect state judges by district, rather than at-large
(6:31 - 18:00) 

In addition to the offices of president, U.S. Senate, and state row offices, Pennsylvania voters elect members of the State Supreme, Superior and Commonwealth courts statewide.

State Representative Russ Diamond of Lebanon County wants to change how appellate judges are elected in the state by making those positions elected by districts.

He proposed an amendment to the state constitution to resolve what he calls, “a problem.”

The Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee advanced this proposal to a vote on February 18, which if passed could be on the ballot in May. 

“Although there are statewide elections for those offices, those elections are generally won, and those seats are generally held, overwhelmingly by two specific counties in Pennsylvania, that would be Allegheny and Philadelphia counties,” he says. 

Currently, the Commonwealth and Superior courts have judges from a number of towns across the state: New Hope, Beaver, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Bethlehem. Allegheny County does have three judges currently on the State Supreme Court, but there are also judges from Butler and Tioga counties. 

Diamond argues that judges from more urban counties will have different views from judges from a rural area. 

Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a nonpartisan nonprofit, opposes this amendment, claiming it will take away the independence of the judiciary and disenfranchise voters. 

“So, voters would choose only one member of the [State] Supreme Court where now they get to choose seven,” says Deborah Gross, president and CEO of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts.  “They would choose one member of the Superior Court where now they get to choose 15, and they would choose only one member of the Commonwealth Court where now they get to choose ten.” 

Gross and other opponents to this law point out that judges are not like politicians, their duty is to uphold the state constitution and laws of the state, not make rulings just for the political whims of a district. 

She says this is a partisan bill, evident because only Republican state politicians support it, and her organization will campaign against it. 

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.