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When a mass of mostly white rioters stormed the heavily guarded U.S. Capitol Wednesday to protest President Trump’s election loss, they mobbed police, freely roamed the halls of Congress, and forced some of the most powerful people in the country to hide and take cover around the building.
Although some people were arrested during the chaos, hundreds more were allowed to walk free in what was seen as a failure of Capitol Police to guard Congress—and an indictment of how law enforcement assesses threats from white people.
After having weeks to prepare for a demonstration that even Trump had warned would grow “wild,” officers were overwhelmed and outnumbered and took more than two hours to restore order, according to the New York Times. Videos appeared to show them removing barricades, taking selfies with rioters, and holding the hand of one woman as she walked down a set of stairs.
Black Lives Matter protesters, on the other hand, were tracked, beaten, tear-gassed, and thrown in jail—including in D.C.—while demonstrating against police brutality during a largely peaceful movement this past summer.
“The acts of terrorism in the Capitol Building are a blatant display of white privilege,” Mariah Cooley, an activist and student at Howard University, wrote in a tweet Wednesday. “When Black people protest unjust deaths, they are met with tear gas, rubber bullets, and police in riot gear. Why is it not the same for those who are trying to overthrow the government?”
Capitol Police, a federal law enforcement agency authorized to have more than 2,000 sworn officers, fatally shot one protester inside the building: a 35-year-old female veteran and QAnon supporter who was believed to be unarmed. An officer has since been placed on administrative leave. Three more people died in what Metropolitan Police Department Chief Robert Contee described as "separate medical emergencies." And at least 52 people, including 26 on the Capitol grounds, were arrested, according to USA Today.
The FBI also put out a plea for more information about people who instigated violence during Wednesday’s riots.
By contrast, more than 300 people were arrested during a D.C. protest over the police killing of George Floyd in June, according to USA Today. Police arrested 120 people during an anti-racism protest in Omaha in July. And 127 people were arrested during a single day of Louisville protests for Breonna Taylor in September.
“When Black people protest for our lives, we are met by National Guard troops or police equipped with assault rifles, tear gas, and battle helmets,” the Black Lives Matter account wrote in a tweet Wednesday. “When white people attempt a coup, they are met by an underwhelming number of law enforcement personnel who act powerless to intervene.”
In a follow-up tweet, Black Lives Matter wrote, “Make no mistake, if the protesters were Black, we would have been tear-gassed, battered, and perhaps shot.”
Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund said in a statement Thursday that officers had acted “valiantly when faced with thousands of individuals involved in violent riotous actions as they stormed the United States Capitol Building.” He defended his department, saying there was a “robust plan established to address anticipated First Amendment activities” and that officers had acted heroically.
Sund noted that officers were attacked with metal pipes and “chemical irritants.” Between his department and D.C. Police, more than 50 cops were injured, and several were hospitalized with serious injuries.
Capitol Police specifically arrested the owner of a suspicious vehicle while officers were responding to reports of two pipe bombs Wednesday, plus “13 additional suspects for unlawful entry of the U.S. Capitol,” Sund said. Officers are still reviewing “surveillance video and open source material to identify others who may be subject to criminal charges.”
In the past, officers with the agency haven’t hesitated to arrest large numbers of protesters. During demonstrations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation in 2018, Capitol Police arrested nearly 300 people at a U.S. Senate building, according to CNN. The protesters had staged a sit-in, unfurling banners as they chanted, according to the Guardian.
The year before, Capitol Police arrested dozens of disability advocates protesting Republican plans to gut the Affordable Care Act. Some of the protesters demonstrating outside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office were in wheelchairs and dragged out by officers.
On Wednesday, some pro-Trump protesters, who broadcast their plans for the demonstration on social media, had openly bashed and threatened the cops even before arriving in D.C. And once there, the rioters screamed at cops, “Traitors get the rope,” as seen in one video.
Another video showed a lone Black police officer backing away from a mob of rioters in the Capitol after demanding they “back up.” The rioters instead followed the officer, yelling as they went.
Several legislators have since called for an investigation.
“U.S. Capitol security failures need to be fully investigated,” said Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, in a tweet early Thursday morning. “We spend billions of dollars on national security and today failed to protect our Nation’s Capital from a lawless mob. Unacceptable!”
Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, also demanded to know how security was “breached this quickly.”
President Donald Trump also hasn’t treated all protesters the same way. Faced with anti-racism demonstrators at the White House in May, he said people would’ve “been greeted with the most vicious dogs” and “most ominous weapons” if they even came close to breaching the fence. He made the protection of federal property a mainstay of his “law and order” bellowing over the summer, deploying federal agents to cities like Portland.
When he wanted his June 1 photo op in the area of Lafayette Square, near the White House, peaceful, anti-police brutality protesters were tear-gassed by cops to clear the way. (U.S. Park Police later denied the “operation” had anything to do with Trump wanting his picture taken.)
On Wednesday, when the Capitol was breached, Trump told his white supporters to “go home with love.”
“We love you,” Trump said in a video message posted to Twitter. “You’re very special.”
The video was later removed.
He also reportedly had to be persuaded to deploy the National Guard, according to NBC News. Ultimately, according to Sund’s statement Thursday, more than 18 local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies—plus the National Guard—came to the Capitol’s aid.
“So damn tired of living in a country that treats Black grief as a threat and white rage as a sacrament,” Rev. Jacqui Lewis, a senior minister at the Middle Collegiate Church in New York, wrote in a tweet.