Handling of Rioters at Nation’s Capitol Reveals Racial Double Standard

By Sophie Fisher ‘21, News Editor

Following the events of January 6th, when a mob of mostly-White Trump supporters stormed the nation’s Capitol with relative ease, many Black activists have expressed anger over what they view as an insufficient police response that was largely inconsistent with how they have been treated by law enforcement. 

“There was not supposed to be anyone near the Capitol,” said Representative Tim Ryan, who chairs a committee that oversees the Capitol Police. “Those were illegal acts, and those people should have been immediately arrested.” However, out of the several thousand rioters who attacked the Capitol, relatively few were actually taken into custody. According to a CNN analysis of Metropolitan Police Department data, DC police arrested more than five times as many people at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests this past summer than they did on January 6th. On June 1st alone, when protesters took to the streets after the killing of George Floyd, the police made 316 arrests, while only 61 people were taken into custody in connection with the riot on January 6th. Moreover, many of those arrested at the Capitol were detained on less serious charges, and the dramatic disparity in arrests came even though more officers were injured in the riot at the Capitol, which left five people dead, including one DC policeman.

According to Anthony Lorenzo Green, one of the activists leading the Black Lives Matter DC group, if BLM protesters had tried to enter the Capitol instead of the predominantly White crowd, “we would be shackled, we would be carried away, we would be shot, we would be dead.” Green was not the only one who held this belief. In a national address on January 7th, President-elect Joe Biden acknowledged the seemingly disparate response as well, saying, “no one can tell me that if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protesting yesterday, they wouldn’t have been treated very, very differently than the mob of thugs that stormed the Capitol.” 

And, indeed, a “mob of thugs” the rioters were. The rioters at the Capitol were filmed and photographed breaking down barriers, smashing windows, snatching “souvenirs” from the building, and entering Congressional offices and chambers. Rather than treating these individuals in the hostile manner they have demonstrated towards BLM protesters, however, police officers at the scene mostly stood by. Perhaps even more frightening, many officers aided the violent protesters. Some parted barricades, others held doors open, and one was even caught on video holding a rioter’s hand as he gently escorted her down the Capitol steps.  

The storming of the Capitol on January 6th and the police’s lukewarm efforts to de-escalate the turbulence was just another frightening display of White privilege in the United States. In a statement regarding the racial double-standard displayed at the Capitol, acclaimed civil rights attorney Ben Crump said “We saw two types of justice systems in America.” It is to be hoped that, with a new Commander-in-Chief and Vice President, our nation will take steps to combat systems of racism so that the decisions of law enforcement will be based on reason, not racial prejudice. 

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