By Koda Slingluff and Mia Machado
CAPITOL HILL— Calling themselves the “Save America Rally,” a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, halting Congress from the formal electoral vote count to certify the winner of the presidential election.
Several thousand protestors broke off from an estimated crowd of 10,000-20,000 pro-Trump demonstrators and charged the building, breaking windows, pointing guns, and waving flags—including the Confederate flag—in the name of President Donald Trump and an election they perceived to be fraudulent.
Yet. as the Senate and members of the House moved from lockdown in their chambers to a full evacuation, many were left to wonder how the same law enforcement that had shown aggressive action against Black Lives Matter protesters could do so little now.
Supporters of Black Lives Matter, many of whom protested in the past year, noted a drastic difference in the police’s response.
George Floyd was an unarmed black man who suffocated to death at the hands of Minneapolis police after a shopkeeper suspected he had paid for cigarettes with a counterfeit 20 dollar bill. The footage of his death shows a brutal excessive use of force, with him pinned under an officer as other police watch him dying on the ground.
Floyd’s brutal death sparked outrage across the nation. The organization Black Lives Matter (or BLM) along with many other civil rights activism groups led a growing movement against police brutality.
These protests yielded radically different reactions from law enforcement than the Save America Rally that stormed the Capitol.
Protests of George Floyd’s death in 2020 allegedly resulted in more than 14,000 arrests—substantially higher than today’s reported 13 total. On May 28, a woman was trampled by a police horse in Houston. The very same day in Minneapolis, an officer in a squad car was recorded spraying a chemical onto bicyclists and pedestrians in the area.
May 30 saw eight BLM protesters suffer severe eye injuries from rubber bullets, highly embraced by law enforcement when addressing BLM. Closer to home, an unarmed, kneeling man with his hands up was shot five consecutive times by police in Vallejo, CA, murdering him. And a National Lawyers Guild legal observer suffered major injuries in Sacramento when shot by a rubber bullet while observing the police.
Some may argue that these instances are not comparable, since the protests were nationwide rather than just in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, Washington was no exception to the bloody force implemented against BLM protesters.
Video shows an Australian news team attacked by D.C. police in riot gear last June. A cameraman from BBC also recorded being charged at by police outside the White House. A colleague of the cameraman said, “The assault took place even before the curfew had been imposed and happened without warning or provocation.”
Perhaps most famously, the police and national guard used tear gas, flash grenades, and rubber bullets to clear a path in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church to allow the president to pose for photographs back in May 2020.
Treated like an all-out riot, the crowd was allegedly completely peaceful, and even contained leaders of the Christian community. More than 20 priests were tear gassed by law enforcement that day, having done nothing illegal or out of order.
These examples show the willingness—excessive willingness—to subdue nonviolent demonstrations. Time and time again, BLM supporters have risked mass arrest, assault, teargas, blindness from rubber bullets, and even trampling, in order to protest.
Twitter user @johnpavlovitz summarized this dissonance in a viral tweet, saying, “One person was shot and killed today when thousands of white terrorists violently forced their way into the seat of our Government intending to do harm. That’s as many people who were shot and killed when George Floyd tried to use a counterfeit 20 dollar bill.”
It took hours for the national guard to show up as the Capitol building was actively mobbed. And after the mayor of D.C., Muriel Bowder, had already declared a 6 p.m. curfew. After Virginia Governor Ralph Northam had sent his own state troopers. Only then did the President send in the national guard.
In the time before he took this action, the president tweeted in support of those inflicting chaos at the capitol, saying he “loved” them.
“These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long… Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!” The president tweeted.
President-elect Joe Biden spoke publicly as the sitting president remained silent (aside from his tweet). Biden emphasized that what was happening in D.C. was not indicative of the American people.
“Let me be very clear: the scenes of chaos at the Capitol do not represent who we are,” he said. “What we are seeing is a small number of extremists dedicated to lawlessness. This is not dissent, it’s disorder. It borders on sedition, and it must end. Now.”
Sedition is a felony offense in which someone incites rebellion against lawful authority. With the United States Senate and House of Representatives fleeing a mob at the Capitol, the term “sedition” may be thrown around in the upcoming weeks, as America strives to understand who is responsible for what has happened.
Following the chaos that ensued on Capitol Hill, many prominent news outlets, including MSNBC News, CNN and USA Today, were quick to point out the seemingly “double standard” treatment Trump supporters received from law enforcement in comparison to what Black Live Matter protesters experienced last summer.
USA Today notes that as “thousands of people of color and allies took to the streets this summer to peacefully protest police brutality, law enforcement often clashed with demonstrators, deploying tear gas and rubber bullets, bruising faces and bodies.”
In stark contrast, as USA Today points out, when thousands of President Trump supporters—“mostly white”—broke to the Capitol building as lawmakers convened to count presidential electoral votes, forcing them to shelter in place, “crowds of law enforcement were notably absent.”
Despite D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee, III, recognizing that Trump supporters had come to Capitol Hill with “the intent on causing harm to our officers” in order to forcibly enter the building, “only a small group of riot police stood outside the back of the Capitol building … as demonstrators called for breaching the building.”
As seen in a video posted on social media, “several people in D.C. Capitol Police jackets [were seen] removing barriers outside the Capitol building, allowing demonstrators to pass through the building.”
In another video posted to Twitter, at least one person “appeared to be an officer taking selfies with people who had breached the Capitol.”
The National Lawyers Guild, with 200 chapters nationwide, noted the “sharp contrast” of treatment at the Capitol “to the police response to white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, VA in 2017, where right-wing operatives and loyalists rioted in attempt to reverse a city council decision to remove racist monuments.
“Today, police stood down yet again—as is expected of such an inherently white supremacist institution. These right-wing operatives are their friends, family, and political brethren. The difference between the police response to protesters of color just a few months ago and all throughout American history, and the current response to white Trump supporters instigating a coup, lays bare the priorities of U.S. law enforcement.
“As we witnessed today, right-wing revanchists were able to storm the Capitol with little to no resistance by law enforcement. Some police officers were even documented opening barricades to let right wing operatives through, taking selfies with them, and carefully escorting them away from the scene.
Other news outlets, such as Forbes Magazine, took the opportunity to criticize the considerably light-hearted response elicited by President Trump to the violence on Capitol Hill, after spending the summer condemning the actions of Black Lives Matter protesters.
Forbes ridiculed President Trump’s sympathetic rhetoric on Twitter to the “mob of his supporters who charged past barricades and law enforcement to infiltrate the U.S. Capitol.”
After repeating his “baseless claims” that the election had been stolen, President Trump assured his supporters that “I know your pain” and “I know you’re hurt,” before adding, “We love you.”
Though asking supporters to “go home in peace,” Trump added that they are “very special,” and are “great patriots.”
President Trump’s rhetoric around Black Lives Matter protests, as Forbes Magazine points out, is quite oppositional to his recent statements.
When addressing Black Lives Matter movement, Trump has repeatedly referred to protestors as “thugs,” “terrorists” and “anarchists.”
In response to video footage captured in September of clashes between protestors and the public in Pittsburgh, President Trump tweeted a claim that protestors were “anarchists” who “harass elderly Pittsburgh diners, scaring them with loud taunts while taking their food right off their plate.”
Earlier in the summer following the death of George Floyd, Trump appeared to “threaten violence against protesters,” tweeting that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” In denouncing the destruction of property by protectors, Trump referred to the behavior as “domestic acts of terror.”
Forbes Magazine also called attention to Trump’s rhetoric when Black Lives Matters protestors demonstrated outside the White House in May.
After claiming that BLM protestors were “just there to cause trouble,” the President added that if protestors got too close, “they would have been greeted with the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen. That’s when people would have been really badly hurt, at least.”
Mia Machado is a junior at UC Davis, currently majoring in Political Science-Public Service and minoring in Luso-Brazilian studies. She is originally from Berkeley, California
Koda is a junior at UC Berkeley, majoring in Philosophy and minoring in Rhetoric. He is from Ventura, CA.
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