As insurrectionists breached the U.S. Capitol en masse Wednesday afternoon, footage posted on social media shows them doing a lot of different things inside the Capitol. They’re banging on doors, yelling, waving Confederate and MAGA flags, brandishing guns, and posing for pictures in the Big Chair on the Senate floor. Another thing a few of them appear to be doing? Hanging out with the cops who are ostensibly deployed there to keep protesters from doing any of the stuff we just mentioned.
One clip, initially posted to TikTok, seems to show police simply stepping aside to passively allow a swarm of people to breach a barrier erected to prevent them from reaching the Capitol.
That’s pretty weird because, as Business Insider journalist Manny Fidel noted on Twitter, law enforcement in D.C. appears capable of keeping people from going places when they feel like it, exemplified by a show of force from this past June. I wonder: What was different then?
Another clip, cut from a livestream, shows a masked man pausing to snag a selfie with a United States Capitol police officer, whose badge number might be visible if you pause the video at the correct time. The cop, lest mine eyes deceive me, actually strikes a little pose when he sees that he’s on camera. Per the New York Times, one police officer told a crowd asking why protesters weren’t being dispersed: “We’ve just got to let them do their thing now.”
In another clip, a cop dressed in riot gear appears to be helping an insurrectionist walk down the stairs of the Capitol—a move that contrasts starkly with the Capitol police officers’ treatment of disabled activists from ADAPT protesting healthcare cuts in 2017.
Huh. Go figure, right? I guess, given the context that law enforcement unions around the country endorsed Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election, it makes a little more sense. Further considering the reporting that’s been done on the deep-seated connections between American law enforcement agencies and the kind of white supremacist and extremist hate groups who could, I don’t know, break into the U.S. Capitol, a picture emerges of who the cops consider dangerous, and who they consider friendly enough to pose with. It’s not the first time police officers in the U.S. have been caught lending a helping hand to Trump supporters wreaking havoc—footage of officers tossing water bottles out to white militia members in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the night Kyle Rittenhouse shot multiple people, springs to mind.
For now, it’s searingly obvious that the people who stormed the Capitol building did not experience the brutality cops spent all summer enacting on the protesters who took to the streets to fight back against police violence. This is no accident: Statistically speaking, studies have shown cops are more likely to respond with aggression when police brutality is the thing being protested. One study, spanning from 1960 to 1990, showed that police were also more likely to deploy violence at protests led by Black Americans.
That’s not to say there should have been more tear gas or rubber bullets from the U.S. Capitol police force today; that was never going to happen as long as the police themselves have the power to decide who they react to and how, who threatens law and order, and who just needs to blow off a little steam.
It remains to be seen what kind of consequences the people who breached the Capitol building (and interrupted that vaunted Democratic process we all hear so much about) will face. But we already saw what they get when the police are allowed to react organically: a major symbolic gesture challenging the U.S. government, and a picture that says a thousand words about who the police really work for.
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