Anti-lockdown protests continue across America, a movement made up of dissatisfied citizens who believe stay-at-home orders violate their constitutional rights (happily waiving their right to not die of Covid-19) and backed by a cohort of right-wing groups.
While the protests themselves have pushed the issue of a lockdown exit strategy ever higher on the agenda of state leaders, there’s another vital aspect to them that onlookers keep pointing out: the white privilege at play.
The gatherings to protest lockdowns across the nation have been overwhelmingly white. No need to mask the truth: this has affected the way they are being policed.
Despite anti-lockdown demonstrators gridlocking cities, carrying firearms to what is supposed to be a “peaceful assembly” and fundamentally breaking lockdown rules by not practicing social distancing, they are being more or less being left alone by the authorities present.
This is in stark contrast to the treatment of black and ethnic minority protesters, especially those who amassed to challenge police brutality as part of the Black Lives Matter movement.
A 2018 protest against the police shooting of unarmed black man Stephen Clark in Sacramento saw police arrest 84 people, despite it being a peaceful march.
In comparison, four people were arrested at an anti-lockdown protest in North Carolina on 29 April that saw hundreds gather in violation of state orders, heckle of police officers, including demonstrators taunting police to arrest them, and the damage of state property.
It is not whether police should be detaining protestors that has become a cause of debate; it’s that there is a glaring difference that marks the occasions when they decide to do that. It’s as stark as black and white.
Consider the reception given to armed protesters who stormed the Michigan Capitol Building on Thursday.
Hundreds gathered in Lansing to demonstrate while legislators were debating extending state of emergency measures, according to NBC News. Many were armed; some pushed inside the building, then attempted to gain access to the House floor, but were blocked by state police and sergeants-at-arms.
At this point, footage was captured demonstrating the huge racial disparity between the treatment of white and black individuals who exercise their constitutional right to protest.
Video shows armed protesters crowded into the building's lobby, screaming at police and chanting.
“This is the people’s house, you cannot lock us out,” they shouted.
Outside, a sign read “Tyrants get the rope,” reported The Guardian.
Inside, photos reveal high tension; in one shot a bearded man screams directly into the face of state police officers, who stand silently in front of him.
Yet no arrests were made at the protest and a spokesperson for the state police told NBC that it is “legal” to carry a firearm in Michigan if done with “lawful intent” and the weapon is “visible”.
Black individuals have been targeted by police for all of these things in the last 12 months alone, including an incident last August where a black man was stopped and questioned for over 20 minutes because a white woman reported he was looking at her “suspiciously”.
The thought of what the police would do if a crowd of majority black individuals with firearms stormed the state’s most significant political building and screamed into their faces is harrowing. And it’s a far cry from what actually transpired. It’s this, the difference in the manner these two communities are policed simply due to skin colour, that lays bare how deep white privilege goes, right into the bone marrow of every institution.
As Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez put it, those who protested on issues that disproportionately affect ethnic minority individuals, like police brutality and draconian immigration policy, were treated as a “threat to society”.
Yet armed crowds violating federal and state guidelines to protest against measures implemented to save lives during a pandemic are supported by the president and go unchallenged by law enforcement.
What’s the difference? They’re white.
(It also cannot go unmentioned that Covid-19 is killing black people in Michigan at five times the rate of white people.)
As it stands, these protesters eventually dispersed, doubtless feeling they have made a great stand for what they believe are their constitutional rights. It is unlikely that they spared a single thought to the conditions of privilege that allowed them to do so without being penalised.
Equally, the officers present almost certainly didn’t stop to ponder how they may have reacted if the baying crowd holding rifles inches from their faces and demanding entry to the House had not been predominantly white. So we must do it for them.
There is no vaccine being developed for white privilege and, as these protests show, it's only getting more virulent. In turn, we become more vigilant.
White is not always right.