When the world witnessed the US Capitol - the institution where Congress sits to deliberate and pass laws - be violently invaded by far right rioters, many expected this attack on American democracy to met by a heavy hand from the law. Especially considering the response to the numerous Black Lives Matter (BLM) movements we witnessed in 2020, following the death of an unarmed Black man, George Floyd, when a white officer knelt on his neck for eight minutes.
But, unsurprisingly to many activists who have devoted their lives to fighting white supremacy and advancing the rights of Black people in the US, the response to the Capitol rioters and BLM protesters was not comparable.
'What if those rioters had been Black?' many asked, suggesting that history tells us Black lives would have been in danger if they had similarly formed groups, defied law enforcement with weapons and violently attacked a national government building.
During last summer's Black Lives Matter resurgence movements, which were staged across the world as a result of the deaths of Floyd, Breonna Taylor and the systemic racist structures that allow these devastating instances to have continued for so many years, the rhetoric of lawmakers and the response of law enforcement was vastly different.
President Donald Trump responded to the movements with violent rhetoric - 'when the looting starts, the shooting starts' and referring to protesters as 'criminals' - and the National Guard was deployed along with a heavy police presence which carried and used batons, sprayed activists with tear gas and arrested journalists doing their job and reporting from the scene.
But, on Wednesday, with the Defence Department's first reaction was to refuse the deployment of the guard, according to reports. A police officer even posed for a selfie with a rioter.
Cops are taking selfies with the terrorists. pic.twitter.com/EjkQ83h1p2
— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) January 6, 2021
Outraging those watching from home - as the majority of those in the US should be given the ever-increasing cases of Coronavirus in the country - some of the strongest responses came on realisation of the vastly different reaction to the riots compared to the BLM protests from the US government and police. It's something the Black Lives Matter campaign highlighted immediately:
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) made reference to the outcry from Republicans when civil rights activist and American footballer Colin Kaepernick peacefully 'took a knee' in 2016 and inspired a movement to protest against police brutality compared to the reaction to violence enacted by white supremacists yesterday:
And you thought "Taking A Knee" was too much!?!
— NAACP (@NAACP) January 6, 2021
This exchange between a white man on his porch and a Black woman in her car agreeing that the response would be incredibly different if it were Black Lives Matter marches went viral:
So I filmed this video today. I shot it in a D.C. neighbourhood as Trump-supporters were leaving downtown after the protests and riots today. Apparently it went viral after I posted in on my Instagram @westhrin So here it is, Twitter! #guyonporch #womanincar pic.twitter.com/bmMUS48Blz
— Veronica Westhrin (@NRKveronica) January 7, 2021
Videos of police and government responses to each event were played side by side:
January 6, 2021 vs. June 1, 2020:
Here’s a comparison of how law enforcement responded to Trump supporters on Capitol Hill on Wednesday and #BlackLivesMatter protesters near the White House last year.
More: https://t.co/v1oIMfzh6E pic.twitter.com/NhruPhghow
— Bloomberg Quicktake (@Quicktake) January 7, 2021
Some police officers were filmed taking selfies, opening barricades and helping Trump supporters down stairs during the siege of the US Capitol. On the same streets months earlier, Black Lives Matter protesters were tear-gassed and shoved out of the way for Trump's photo op. pic.twitter.com/i3Rw2wJTQD
— SBS News (@SBSNews) January 7, 2021
The irony is pretty funny.........weren’t people just wild animals in the summer for demanding justice and now?🤔🤔🤔🤔......Let me just watch.
— iamcardib (@iamcardib) January 6, 2021
Just think of the carnage had they not been white.
— Chris Evans (@ChrisEvans) January 6, 2021
Queer Eye's Karamo Brown and Jonathan Van Ness:
ELLE UK cover star Gemma Chan rightfully suggested that the image of an officer posing with a picture of a Trump-supporting rioter in the Capitol was the epitome of white privilege:
If you’ve ever been confused about the term “privilege” https://t.co/RUFDEuAukq
— Gemma Chan (@gemma_chan) January 6, 2021
Others said the actions displayed yesterday only further the argument for 'defunding' the police, which was a rallying cry during the 2020 movements with activists calling for a cut to law enforcement budget and a diversion of the funds into public and community services.
Tell me again why we can’t defund the police & military when they’ve shown us today that they don’t intend to use any of their expensive gear to protect the Capitol from a domestic invasion?
— the capitol’s not secure, the coup’s still ongoing (@BreeNewsome) January 6, 2021
Are we allowed to say defund the police now? https://t.co/o6f5RLfRt1
— Joy WE VOTED!! WEAR A MASK!! Reid 😷) (@JoyAnnReid) January 6, 2021
Reworded: BLM protestors would never be allowed to step foot inside the Capitol. We saw that this summer don't fucking deny it. If these people today were not white they'd be beaten and if they got inside anyway they would be murdered. Fuck white supremacy and defund the police.
— Jeff Rosenstock (@jeffrosenstock) January 6, 2021
My one, small hope is that seeing cops aid in an attempted coup yesterday will push more of us to realise that they are a lost cause. “Defund the police” is a necessary position, not a radical one
— Clarisse Loughrey (@clarisselou) January 7, 2021
In essence, people think yesterday's insurrection would have been treated differently had the people storming the Capitol been Black:
— Kelci (@KellNewman32) January 7, 2021
A woman was shot.
The US Capitol was raided.
Offices of congresspeople were broken into.
Confidential materials were stolen.
AND THEY LET THEM ALL GO.
It’s truly one of the whitest moments in modern American history.
— Shaun King (@shaunking) January 6, 2021
Think about how much suffering and injustice Black Americans have faced for *centuries* in this country. Yet they have never attacked the Capitol, nor have Native Americans.
And yet a bunch of white #MAGA snowflakes decided to attack the Capitol because they lost an election.
— Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) January 6, 2021
The "curfew" in DC started 2.5 hours ago and THOUSANDS of Trump supporters are still all over the city.
Again, the way DC and other cities have enforced curfews against Black & Brown people is TOTALLY DIFFERENT.
— Shaun King (@shaunking) January 7, 2021
You boarded up your businesses and sent out your officers and your tear gas when all we said was “Black lives matter,”
but you stood back, unprepared and surprised when violent white terrorists showed up exactly as they told you they would and put us all in danger.
— brittany packnett cunningham. (@MsPackyetti) January 6, 2021
The police in Seattle and Portland and DC were more prepared to repress peaceful Black Lives Matter protests than people actually trying to storm the US Capitol.
— Judith Browne Dianis (@jbrownedianis) January 6, 2021
Remember when Trump threw tear gas before he went to a church and held the Bible? But these folks get to storm the capitol?
— Nelini Stamp 🐺🐜 (@NelStamp) January 6, 2021
DC has more police per capita than any city in the country.
The Capitol alone has 2,000 officers.
They ARE trained for a terrorist attack.
I assure you the problem is not training.
It's that when they imagine terrorists, they simply don't imagine white people.
— Shaun King (@shaunking) January 7, 2021
The police confirmed that four people had died during the riots at Capitol Hill and 52 people were arrested - some on weapons charges and others for breaking curfew. They added that two pipe bombs were found as well as a Molotov cocktail, Reuters reported. On Thursday, the FBI put out an plea for information which could lead them to 'identify individuals instigating violence in Washington DC'.
The FBI is seeking to identify individuals instigating violence in Washington, D.C. We are accepting tips and digital media depicting rioting or violence in and around the U.S. Capitol on January 6. If you have information, visit https://t.co/buMd8vYXzH.
— FBI (@FBI) January 7, 2021
Last summer, 500 arrests were made in one day (May 30) during a Los Angeles Black Lives Matter protests and almost 300 people were arrested in one day on June 1 during the DC marches. Experts suggest more than 14,000 people were arrested across 49 states in total, according to the Washington Post.
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