Police reaction to armed Trump supporters violently storming the U.S. Capitol starkly contrasts their reaction against the unarmed Black Lives Matter protesters earlier this year, according to activists, political scientists and cultural psychologists.
Mostly white Pro-Trump extremists fought with United States Capitol Police and forced their way into the building on Wednesday, not long after a rally near the White House, during which Trump egged them on to march to Capitol Hill. Some took selfies inside the Senate chamber, dangled from balconies, and sat at desks inside offices.
One woman was fatally shot inside the U.S. Capitol after rioters breached the building. Although the circumstances were not clear. At least 13 people were arrested by police late Wednesday night.
But observers said those figures and police reaction would have been far different had the rioters not been majority white.
The hashtag #whiteprivilege was trending on Twitter with many critics noting the apparent lack of officers in riot gear, using tear gas or travelling in military-style vehicles -- measures that were seen by law enforcement at anti-Black racism protests during the summer in the United States, including in Washington, D.C.
When it came to that gaping chasm in police reaction, many weren’t shocked.
“I am hurt, disheartened, angry, but not surprised,” assistant professor Rashelle Litchmore, a cultural psychologist at the department of human development at Connecticut College, told CTVNews.ca via email. “Very few Black people with any knowledge of history are surprised right now.”
“This goes beyond white privilege,” she said. “This is an ugly manifestation of white supremacy, where white people are presumed to be innocent, to be rational, to be fair, to be just, and Blacks are presumed to be criminal.”
And in this case specifically, Litchmore said, “white people are given a slap on the wrist for treasonous protest because they are defending White supremacy.”
Referring to way police were able to safely arreste Kyle Rittenhouse, who allegedly killed two people at a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha, Wis. in August: “Our culture has continuously excused domestic terrorism as ‘lone wolf’ acts where as Black civil rights protests are framed as criminal, and Blacks as inherently racially and culturally violent.”
Litchmore said if people are denying that race hasn’t played a role in Wednesday’s police reaction, “that means that they have not been paying attention to U.S. history.”
Sandy Hudson, a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Toronto, also isn’t surprised by the police reaction. She called the actions of the pro-Trump extremists an “attempt at a coup.”
“It couldn’t be more clear that Black people are subject to intense repression by law enforcement and it’s actually unbelievable that armed people were able to get so close to the Capitol with firearms and inside the Capitol with firearms,” she said on CTV News Channel.
CONTRAST BETWEEN RIOTERS, BLM PROTESTS ‘NIGHT AND DAY’
Many observers like Hudson and Litchmore drew a direct comparison between the way law enforcement acted on Wednesday and the way they reacted during peaceful Black Lives Matter protests near the White House this past June.
At the time, U.S. Park Police and National Guard troops dispersed crowds non-violently protesting in the plaza between St. John's Church and Lafayette Park with tear gas. It was later revealed that the reason why was to allow U.S. President Donald Trump to walk through Lafayette Square to take a photo-op at a church.
Demonstrators, who had gathered to protest the death of George Floyd, begin to run from tear gas used by police to clear the street near the White House in Washington, Monday, June 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
“Most impartial observers felt it was a very harsh reaction to protests that were relatively peaceful,” Jeanne Meserve, a CTV News International security correspondent and senior fellow at the George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute, told CTV News Channel.
“What they [BLM protesters] were doing doesn’t compare to storming the U.S. Capitol building,” Meserve said, calling the reaction from law enforcement on Wednesday “stunning. Just stunning”
“The contrast that you’re seeing now is night and day. I will say that one of the reasons why things are different this time is that they [law enforcement] did not want to repeat what happened in Lafayette Square.”
Litchmore said the threshold for police to do more appeared to be higher for these white Trump rioters. “My thought is that would take absolute displays of violence for police to react in a similar manner that they do to non-violent Black protests,” she said.
TRUMP HAS BEEN FANNING FLAMES
Many experts told CTV News the primary blame could be easily placed at the feet of U.S. President Donald Trump.
Only hours after rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol building did Trump finally speak publicly to his supporters, who he called “very special” and that he loves them.
“Go home we love you you're very special… I know how you feel but go home and go home in peace,” he said in a minute-long video, shortly after U.S. President-Elect Joe Biden urged for peace and for Trump supporters to “pull back.”
But it should be noted that Trump’s message primarily focused on doubling down on his unfounded claims the U.S. election was stolen from him. And according to one political science professor, Trump’s continued praise to his supporters is likely not going to make a dent.
“Trump has been fanning these flames for a very long time,” Nadia Elizabeth Brown, a professor of political science and African AmericansStudies at Purdue University, she told CTV News Channel.
She mentioned how Trump told the Proud Boys, a far-right, neo-fascist group, to “stand back and stand by” during a 2020 presidential debate earlier this year.
Brown added that the scenes in Washington show that “this isn’t just empty rhetoric” and that she wouldn’t be surprised if similar scenes took place in other U.S. state capitols in the coming days.
BLM Toronto co-founder Hudson agreed, saying commentators and politicians “can’t just dismiss them as a ragtag group of losers.”
She said fellow anti-Black racism organizers she was speaking to are “afraid of what’s going to happen in their communities.” And their collective fear means she doesn’t expect to see counter-protesters come out to confront pro-Trump extremists in Washington.
Litchmore shared Hudson’s concerns, saying, “I am worried for Black people. I am worried for the United States. I do not feel safe. Biden taking up the presidency will not make these people go away. The ugly underbelly of the U.S. has been exposed and it will not be easily remedied. Remember, this did not start with Donald Trump, and it will not end with him leaving office.”