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Extended Interview: Activist Jasiri X On Law Enforcement's Response To Capitol Insurrection

Rick Bowmer
In this Jan. 6, 2021 file photo, supporters of President Donald Trump attend a rally in protest of President-elect Joe Biden election win, in Salt Lake City.

The Confluence spoke with Jasiri X, the founder and CEO of 1Hood Media and Pittsburgh-based activist, about the Right-wing extremist mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6. This is an extended version of this interview. 

The interview was conducted on Friday, January 15. Some things may have changed by the time you hear this. 

Kevin Gavin: It's the Confluence where the news comes together on 90.5 WESA, I'm Kevin Gavin. More than 20,000 National Guard troops are in Washington to make sure tomorrow's inauguration is secure to thwart a repeat of January 6th 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 pro-Trump mob was handled versus Black Lives Matter protests from last summer in front of the White House. Just last year, Pittsburgh saw a mix of protests, some calling for racial justice and others protesting the election results. With us is just Jasiri X, an activist, and he's the founder and CEO of 1Hood Media. Welcome back to The Confluence, Jasiri.

Jasiri X: Thank you for having me.

Gavin: Jasiri, what were you thinking when you saw what happened in Washington, D.C., January 6th?

JX: Well, you know, a variety of thoughts. You know, one, I was thinking that, you know. The, I think there's one thing that, like Black people understand is that, you know, historically, when white people feel, you know, disenfranchised or, you know, oppressed in whatever way they see, their responses are almost always violent. You know, we saw people show up to the City County building in Pittsburgh in March because of mask ordinances, you know, because of Covid-19. And so, but I think the level of the fact that, you know. The mob actually like breached the Capitol, the fact that, you know, when I saw the pictures of, you know, the the the Trump rioters fighting police officers, beating police officers. There's one video with the American flag climbing up walls.

I mean, it was kind of like, you know, white people going wild in a sense. You know what I'm saying so. It was a thing of like, are you seeing this? But it was also like. It was really 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 protesters, opening barriers for these for these rioters. And and so I was a lot of emotions, you know, to see. And it was but ultimately to me, I walked away by saying like, you know, this is white privilege on display not only with how these these these rioters were able to break into the Capitol, take things, destroy things, defecate, you know, and put it on the wall, fight police, beat police officers, but just able to walk right out. I mean, it was just it was shocking in the sense of like, you know, what we've been saying about how the difference in the way we've been treated by police was on full display, but it didn't stop there.

I mean, to this day, we don't have, you know, who's been really held responsible for it?

Gavin: Well, more than 100 arrests have been made. But you're right, I don't know if a ringleader has been held responsible.

JX: When I say, when I say, responsible, I mean, you know, in terms of, you know, so far we don't have any members of the Congress or the Senate who, who inflame this being held responsible. You know, Trump was impeached, but, you know, Trump, his family, anybody that spoke at these rallies, we haven't really saw them held accountable. You know, the Capitol Police chief said that he was asking for backup and backup was denied. Who was denying him backup on what grounds? So I think there's so much there's so many layers to this that that we have to unpack that.

So far, it seems like it hasn't been really that much of an interest. It's kind of a thing of like, well, you know, there was violence in the summer. There was violence. Now we just got to come together in unity and it'd be over. And I think if that if that's the spirit of where we go forward, then we won't get to the root of the real issue and the real problem.

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
1 Hood Media Founder Jasiri X speaks during a Black, Young and Educated demonstration in Bakery Square on June 6, 2020.

And then the last thing, Kevin, I thought about the fact that two months ago here in in Pittsburgh, the FBI came out and said that Pittsburgh had one of the highest activities of white supremacist groups in the country. There's still talks about more violence coming. And I don't know if I haven't seen anybody from the city or county come out and say that there was any type of plan to deal with the many white supremacy militia groups we have locally.

So then what does that mean for me as a Black person, as an activist, as somebody who's been outspoken in this area? Now I have to worry about my own personal safety.

Gavin: Hmm. Well, President-elect Joe Biden said after the attack, if the rioters had been a group of Black Lives Matter protesters, they would have been treated very differently than the mob of thugs that stormed the Capitol, end quote. Do you think it was different treatment or were authorities literally overwhelmed by the numbers of those who breached the Capitol?

JX: Well, I think that's the beginning of the different treatment. You know, we go out there with signs and water and you I'm saying like we're we're not we're not in paramilitary gear. We don't have pipe bombs or Molotov cocktails or or tasers or zip ties. And the police come out in full SWAT regalia. You know, in Pittsburgh, I remember, you know, we saw like mini tanks, police that like tanks and, you know, tear gas and all of these things for for basically a group of Black teenagers leading us on a protest against police brutality. So, I mean, we've seen the photos of when it was Black Lives Matter protests. You saw the National Guard and military out there, you know, and the fact that there was not National Guard, there was not, you know, officers and full SWAT gear and there were so few officers. To me, this shows that, like, it had to be some type of coordination.

Gavin: So you're saying, so you're saying coordination rather than just not being prepared and not being prepared for the size and the violence of the crowd.

JX: Kevin, come on, man. Bro. Kevin, let's get these people planned this for months. Like this wasn't a surprise.

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
A Pittsburgh Police officer stands in front of the Liberty Tunnels during a Black Lives Matter demonstration in the summer of 2020.

You know, they were on social media for months, including President Donald Trump. Come January 6th, January 6th is going to be wild. We're going to march to the Capitol. Come on down. Mind you, Kevin, a few weeks before that, the Proud Boys went into D.C., fought people, stabbed people, went into historically Black churches, tore up and burned Black Lives Matter. Signs like this is this is this was the second time the Proud Boys held some type of event in D.C. where people were actually stabbed like. And so but this was what happens when you don't hold these folks accountable for what they do.

Then they come back and they come back again more and more. So, no, you know, if the people there have worn shirts that say Civil War, January 6TH, you knew they were coming, you knew they were coming in large numbers. So I don't I have I don't believe that this was oh, we were surprised. We we couldn't believe. No, you were not surprised. Somebody if the chief of the Capitol Police is saying, I reached out to the Pentagon and they denied my request for more assistance, that's that's the level of coordination. I want to know when we see video of Capitol Police officers waving protest in moving barriers for protesters, who are these people? Now, reports are coming out that black officers in the Capitol Police have been saying for years that there were officers that had racist tendencies on that force.

There's reports of officers not just taking selfies with people, but they said officer put on a megaphone and was guiding people. Kevin, this is so this is much deeper. This isn't though we were surprised and we didn't know. I don't believe that with that. Not when we when we show up with 50 and 80 people. And the whole police force is there in full SWAT and riot gear. And you're telling me you're prepared for us, us 80 people with cardboard signs. But when thousands of people march on the capital and you know that they're angry and mad because President Donald Trump is is inflaming them and these congresspeople, senator like Cruz, are inflaming them. And you're not ready for that. That's foolishness, man, I can't I cannot accept that I can't accept it.

Gavin: Jasiri, New York Congressman Jamaal Bowman has introduced an act to create a commission to investigate any ties between police, law enforcement and the insurrection leaders. Do you think that'll make a difference?

JX: I don't. Well, I think that first we have to start with, you know, the 30 or so off duty police officers that have been identified as attending the Capitol March and find out what type of punishment these officers are they are going to receive.

You know, we had an officer from Zelienople, that was identified as going like, is something going to happen to them? Are they going to be fired? Are they going to lose their jobs? Then we have to go into, like you said, the various military personnel that were there as well.

Why? You know, the joint I mean, Kevin, you talk about something unprecedented. The Joint Chiefs of Staff had to put out a statement to remind the military people that they're supposed to uphold the Constitution. This is in 2020. Hey, just to remind you all, you shouldn't be storming the Capitol, you should be upholding the Constitution. And so I think the question is, just like you said, these hundred or so people that have been arrested.

You know, I saw the guy take the podium. He's out of jail, you know what I'm saying, you know, the one guy is getting his organic meals in jail.

So I think what we have to see is, you know, President Trump introduced a bill or maybe it was an executive order talking about that if you damage federal properties, you get a minimum 10 years in prison or all these people getting a minimum 10 years in prison.

Like like that's what we have to determine. Because if if the people who were there and you caught aren't punished, you know, at a at a level that they should be for somebody that participated in an insurrection. Then we can't even get into the other part, but to say that, you know, the FBI released the report, I want to say it was two to three years ago about white supremacist infiltration in police departments all over the country.

Most police departments, including the FOP Lodge No. 1 in Pittsburgh, endorsed President Trump. How they feel. The the head of the Chicago FOP came out and said he didn't think it was that big, a big of a deal. He didn't see what the protesters or the rioters did as violent. This is a..An officer was killed. So, I mean, it's one of those things, Kevin, where like like, you know, I'm looking around like, am I seeing something that other people aren't? So we have to see what level of punishment people get, because if you don't crack down on this now.

I'm going to tell you this, Kevin. These folks were comfortable enough to go into the Capitol with no mask on.

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Demonstrators rally for Black lives in the summer of 2020.

  Gavin: So they can be identified.

JX: Fight police, beat police, run into the Capitol, steal things without masks. Why? Because they didn't believe that they will be held accountable for those actions. Why? Well, you know, the Q-Shaman came out today and said I was invited by President Trump.

Gavin: Jasiri, during the House hearings on impeachment some members talked about the insurrection and then they mentioned the protests this past summer. Do you think it's fair to make a comparison between protest against racial injustice, a reality where there were some incidents of violence and a violent protest and insurrection with no basis of reality, a so-called stolen election.

JX: Well, so if you do that and this is a thing like. I wouldn't have a problem with you if you were consistent, you can't see Black people rightfully being angry because of of consistent, you know, Black folks being killed by police on camera, going out, protesting and and like you said, their work, where they're where they're looting and where their stuff. Absolutely.

And say, you know, as Trump said, when the looting starts, the shooting starts, but then have a group of white people loot the Capitol and make excuses like that's where it's like, well, wait a second. You wasn't calling for unity when Black folk. And to my to mind, if you remember, because I know we have a short memory. When we were out there protesting against police violence, it was Black people saying, "Stop." Right in Pittsburgh if you want you. There's video when that young white guy in Pittsburgh lit the police car on fire, it was not a Black person.

That's on video, Black people were saying, "Stop, don't do that, don't be violent."

And so it was it was it was white people and it was, you know, interlopers that came and were doing most of the violence. But why were we saying that? Because we know that when a shooting starts is going to be asked to get shot. It's Black people.

And so you also had that part of it as well, where it was video after video, people coming to the protest, not necessarily because they cared about Black lives, but because they saw opportunity to be violent and do violent things. That kid who lit the police car on fire was from some I don't know where he was from, but it wasn't Pittsburgh. And so I think, you know, there's all of these different narratives. So you can't just say, oh, at Black Lives Matter protest there was violence and at the Capitol. Well, we weren't trying to kidnap Senators. I mean, once again.

I didn't see. I didn't see in the end, I'm speaking of the protests I was involved with in Pittsburgh, did no one have Molotov cocktails, did no one have bombs, did no one have zip ties, like, yo we going to kidnap? We didn't go down and march in front of the city. You know, when when folks went in front of Peduto's house, they weren't there to kidnap Peduto. He he sat on the porch with protesters and he was unharmed.

We didn't go with zip ties for him. That's a big difference, I'm saying. And it's like...To conflate the two is to be intentionally dishonest in this moment. And if that dishonesty, Kevin, that has got us where we are right now, you are intentionally dishonest about the election. You were mad that Black people showed up and it was our votes that won it for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. It was our votes that won Georgia. You are angry about that, you know what I'm saying. You are dishonest about the election. But Trump and his cronies and those people that supported him have been intentionally being dishonest and putting lies up, lie after lie after lie that has lost almost 400,000 people in a COVID global pandemic.

And now five people died at the Capitol, including a Capitol police officer. And it's that dishonesty unconfronted. And so as as a media person, you have a responsibility as well. You can't go that both sides. Not now, because if we continue to do that. Then we might as well say, man, let's turn this country over to these white supremacists and these terrorist. Because all of that happened because of intentional willful lies and dishonesty have got us here, so only the truth is going to get us out.

Gavin: Jasiri. Only the truth will get us out of this mess. You say, are you an optimist that anything good can happen? Maybe eyes opened by what happened at the Capitol and see the difference between that insurrection and peaceful protests in the summer.

JX: So, first of all, I just I'm not yelling at you. I don't get it. I feel like I'm being passionate, but I don't want you to think I'm yelling at you personally. I'm saying it's just something I'm OK. I'm just I'm passionate. But I've said your name a few times, so it's not like I want you to think I'm yelling that you are angry at you.

I'm frustrated. So I'm going to be honest, you know.

And, you know, what's wild Kevin is normally I am optimistic and I think I don't think you can be in this work of activism this long and not not have some I'm in it because, you know, it's like I'm seeing a change and I believe a change is coming. But in this instance, you know, the fact that, like.

You know, Trump still president and these Senators and Congresspeople who were tweeting out 1776 and all of these different things that inflame this are still have their positions. You know, causes me to not be optimistic and what it does, I actually think like it wasn't, as crazy as this might sound. It wasn't shocking enough.

Five people died, including the officer, and that might not have been enough to wake people up to the reality of what's going on right now, because there are people that are still trying to defend this. There are people that are still trying to say, oh, this. Well, these weren't Trump's support, despite the fact that we have video. The young the woman who died, there was video of her talking about Trump, defending Trump.

All these people are on record. And it's like, oh, no, this was Antifa. This was Black Lives Matter undercover. You know, and so like the fact that, like, even in this moment, folks can't be honest and say, you know what, we went too far.

And the Capitol was breached for the first time since 1816. Think about that.

So that's and then, you know, there's talk of, you know, James Comey comes out and says Donald Trump should be pardoned. What the f---. I mean, and this is so I'm watching this, once again as a Black person who has been arrested protesting, you know, peacefully. Didn't didn't harm literally sat down in front of a door, I was arrested in and in St. Louis in front of a federal building. They said I was. They said.

I said, "What's the charge?" When I was arrested. They said, "Obstruction."

I said, "Well, you all locked the door, so if the door is locked and I'm sitting in front of it, what am I obstructing?"

"Oh, we're not answering that," so when I was arrested, Kevin, they took my DNA. They they took the swab my cheek and took my DNA, even though we would literally just peacefully sitting there.

So like at this moment, like the fact that, like, this incident was a mirror to America to show the reality of white supremacy in this country and where it leads and what it does.

But, you know, you got to look in that mirror. You got to be willing to look in that mirror and see your faults and then say, OK, these are the things that I'm going to improve on and we're not doing that in this moment. And so at that point, I am. I'm not optimistic, I don't I want I want to see you know, we have a show called This Week in White Supremacy, and we kind of, you know, we try to make some light of it. I want to see Crime Bill Biden.

And I want to see Kamala, the cop, I want to see folks held accountable for this and the fact that there's already this conversation about pardoning folks and not holding folks accountable because it's going to lead to disunity, I just. It is that's where my pessimistic comes in, is that I really believe that will be a year from now. Most of those hundred people arrested probably won't be still in jail. And we'll be talking about and most of those congresspeople that, you know, they talk about people led tours and that, you know, tweeted out inflammatory rhetoric were at the rally. You know, Giuliani's at the rally. Talk about trial by combat. Have they even question that they've been interviewed?

I don't think I think we're going to look back and and I think to not hold these folks accountable in the way we need to is is going to lead to more white supremacist violence. And I think, like what's sad is, like I say it like and this has been a pattern, you know, we saw, you know, Kyle  Rittenhouse made a hero. You know, a white kid or you know that, you know, crossed state lines with with the machine gun illegally.

Shoots three unarmed people, killing two, and he was made a hero, and at that point I knew that I was in danger. Because anybody can come to my protest and shoot me. And be made a hero, not be held accountable. And at that point, I think the same thing is going to happen in this case. These guys are going to get out of prison or jail. They're going to become these right-wing heroes. Trump is going to go on being Donald Trump. You know, and  I think it's going to lead to more violence.

Gavin: Activist Jasiri X the founder and CEO of 1Hood Media.

Marylee is the editor/producer of The Confluence, the daily public affairs show on WESA. She got her start in journalism at The Daily Reveille and KLSU while attending Louisiana State University. She took her passion for audio journalism to UC Berkeley's graduate program and worked in public radio at WPR in Madison, WI, and WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.
Laura Tsutsui is a producer for The Confluence, WESA's morning news show. Previously, she reported on the San Joaquin Valley with the NPR affiliate station in her hometown of Fresno, California. She can be reached at ltsutsui@wesa.fm.
Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Isabelle is a student at George Washington University studying Political Communication. She loves all things Pittsburgh sports and serves as a sports anchor for GW-TV. In her free time, she enjoys museum hopping and walking her dog, Stevie.
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