Wednesday’s uprising drove home a painful and obvious point: Police exercise a level of moderation when facing whites that is hardly ever extended to people of color.
Millions of Americans watched from their homes Wednesday as a mob of mostly white, male, domestic terrorists entered the US Capitol building during Congress’ joint session to confirm the victory of President-elect Joe Biden.
Neither the Secret Service, capitol police, nor the National Guard were able to stop the mob from scaling a scaffolding and breaching the second floor of Congress. Footage showed police officers posing for selfies with them inside the halls. The attack took place a scant two miles from Lafayette Square, where in July police sprayed Black Lives Matter protesters with tear gas so President Trump could pose for photos in front of St. John’s Church.
Social media was rife with posts expressing disbelief at the boldness of the rioters. But even a cursory knowledge of US history, as well as recent events, should have allayed some of the surprise. In the last six months, a domestic terrorist plan to kidnap the governor of Michigan was narrowly averted; lawmakers raised talk of secession; and armed hate groups such as the Proud Boys rose to prominence, thanks to a shout-out from the commander in chief.
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Through racist language and policies, Trump nurtured intolerance for his own ends, ripening his supporters for this moment while the FBI focused on “Black identity extremists” as the greatest threat to national security. (Last year, the Department of Homeland Security finally joined other groups including the Anti-Defamation League to the Center for Investigative Reporting in declaring that white supremacist extremists present “the most lethal threat” to the United States.)
For Black and brown citizens, fresh off yet another year of police violence in response to demonstrations for justice, the events of the day drove home a painful and obvious point: Police exercise a level of moderation when facing whites that is hardly ever extended to people of color.
“The police showed the world what Black folks been knowing: They can show restraint and de-escalate just fine when they value the people they encounter. Their disdain for Black folks is even more evident when we look at the way we were treated this summer compared to [the rioters],” Kristie Puckett-Williams, a Smart Justice manager for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, told COURIER. Puckett-Williams is an organizer and front-lines presence at protests across the South. “The police don’t need more training. They need to be divested from because they perpetuate harm and violence daily.”
This is not conjecture. Since May 2020, Bellingcat and Forensic Architecture found police forces have enacted more than 1,000 rights violations and at least 950 incidences of brutality against US anti-racism protesters. Amnesty International USA released a report, “The World is Watching: Mass Violations by US Police of Black Lives Matter Protesters’ Rights,” that revealed police resorted to physical beatings, chemical agents such as pepper spray and tear gas, rubber bullets, and other projectiles as a first resort, often unprovoked.
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“People who were simply exercising their human right to peacefully protest were met with such violence that they lost eyesight, survived brutal beatings, and suffered seizures and severe wounds,” Ernest Coverson, a campaign manager for Amnesty International USA, said in a release.
Dr. Tracey Benson, an antiracist leadership consultant and author of “Unconscious Bias in Schools,” said police reaction to the attempted coup illustrated that white violence is often not seen as dangerous, while Black people peacefully protesting is.
“President Trump’s rhetoric in Georgia was ‘Save America,’—[but] from who? The immigrants and people who believe Black lives matter. It’s framing Black and brown folks in the position of being violent, when actually [his followers] are violent,” Benson told COURIER. “If this were thousands of Black folks, there would be tear gas, dogs, barricades, and bullets, but because they’re white, people don’t think they need to be met with force, though they are clearly violent.”
This is readily seen in the language used to describe Black vs. white civil disobedience. Last summer, Trump called anti-racism protesters “terrorists“ and sent paramilitary-style units into Democrat-led cities such as Portland, Oregon and Chicago. “You’ve got to arrest people, you have to track people, you have to put them in jail for 10 years and you’ll never see this stuff again,” Trump reprimanded governors on a call.
Wednesday, however, his first public statement following the coup was full of gentle words directed not toward the American people, but the violent mob. After repeating false claims that the election was stolen, Trump politely asked that the insurrectionists go home, adding “We love you, you’re very special.”
“Remember, President Trump supported tear-gassing peaceful protestors for a photo opp in front of a church,” Lecia Brooks, chief of staff for the Southern Poverty Law Center, wrote in an emailed statement. “The contradiction in his response to protests is clear: ‘If you’re with me, commit all the violence you want.’”