NEW YORK — Black Lives Matter protests, 2020: overwhelming force from law enforcement in dozens of cities. Chemical dispersants. Rubber bullets and hand-to-hand combat with largely peaceful crowds and some unruly vandals and looters. More than 14,000 arrests.
The U.S. Capitol, Jan. 6, 2021: barely more than a few dozen arrests. Several weapons seized, improvised explosive devices found. Members of a mob escorted from the premises, some not even in handcuffs.
The first set of protesters were overwhelmingly Black Americans and their allies. The second group was overwhelmingly white Americans who support outgoing President Donald Trump’s claims of election fraud.
“When Black people protest for our lives, we are all too often met by National Guard troops or police equipped with assault rifles, shields, tear gas and battle helmets,” the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation said in a statement.
“When white people attempt a coup, they are met by an underwhelming number of law enforcement personnel who act powerless to intervene, going so far as to pose for selfies with terrorists,” it said.
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Newly sworn-in St. Louis Rep. Cori Bush, who was among the protesters to face down police and National Guardsmen in 2014 after police killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., said the race of the Capitol rioters played a big part in their ability to breach the congressional fortress.
Had the mob been Black, “we would have been laid out,” Bush said.
“The thing is, these are the same people who called us terrorists,” Bush continued. “Confederate flags, ‘Don’t tread on me,’ ‘Blue lives matter’ flags, the Trump flags — all of it symbolizes the same thing. It symbolizes racism and white supremacy.”
The show of force by law enforcement at the Capitol bore little resemblance to the lines of National Guardsmen and other police forces that assembled last year to protect retailers against looting, government buildings against breaching and highways against marching by demonstrators across the country.
Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change, the nation’s largest digital racial justice advocacy group, said he sees it as “a clear example of how racism works in this country and the clear ways there are different sets of rules and different sets of outcomes based on what race you are.”
Although Wednesday’s events represented one of the most alarming attacks on democratic institutions in recent memory, it wasn’t the only one seen that day. Apparent Trump supporters forced disruptions at statehouses across the country, including in Georgia, New Mexico and Ohio.
And that wasn’t the first time that such a disparate law enforcement response to such attacks drew national anger and criticism of police. In May, a large group of mostly white men carrying long rifles stormed the Michigan Statehouse in Lansing over the governor’s coronavirus pandemic shutdown mandates. There were few arrests and little condemnation from the White House.
In June, Trump administration officials had federal officers clear Black Lives Matter protesters with flash bang grenades and tear gas, to facilitate a now infamous photo-op in front of a church near the White House.
Black Lives Matter protesters and their supporters in Portland, Ore., quickly pointed out Wednesday the disparity between Trump’s response to racial justice protests in the Pacific Northwest city and his encouragement of the violence in D.C.
On July 27, after his deployment of U.S. agents to quell weeks of demonstrations, Trump tweeted: “Anarchists, Agitators or Protesters who vandalize or damage our Federal Courthouse in Portland, or any Federal Buildings in any of our Cities or States, will be prosecuted under our recently re-enacted Statues and Monuments Act. MINIMUM TEN YEARS IN PRISON. Don’t do it!”
The thousands of Capitol protesters heard a much different message from the president.
“I know your pain, I know your hurt,” Trump said in a now-deleted video posted to his Twitter account. “You have to go home, now. … We love you. You’re very special.”
On Thursday, President-elect Joe Biden noted the double standard, saying he had received a text message from his granddaughter, Finnegan, of a photo showing “military people in full military gear — scores of them lining the steps of the Lincoln Memorial” during a Black Lives Matter protest last year.
“She said ‘Pop, this isn’t fair,'” the president-elect recounted.
“No one can tell me that if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protesting yesterday … they would have been treated very, very differently than a mob of thugs that stormed the Capitol,” Biden said.
“We all know that’s true. And it is unacceptable,” he added.
Former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter also weighed in with expressions of consternation, some of them placing blame squarely on Trump.
However, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., a Trump ally, cited “pretty compelling evidence from a facial recognition company” that he claimed showed that “some of the people who breached the Capitol today were not Trump supporters.” Instead, they were “masquerading as Trump supporters and, in fact, were members of the violent terrorist group antifa.”
Antifa is a frequent target of Trump’s. The loose-knit ideology isn’t generally manifested in any sort of formal organization.
But many in the crowd at the Capitol were wearing clothing or carrying flags that identified them as Trump supporters.
Information for this article was contributed by Gillian Flaccus, Padmananda Rama and Michelle Price of The Associated Press; and by Philip Bump and Dalton Bennett of The Washington Post.
In this combination of photos, on June 3, 2020, demonstrators, left, protest the death of George Floyd at the U.S. Capitol in Washington and Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier Jan. 6, 2021, at the same location. (AP Photos)
In this combination of photos, on June 7, 2020, protesters participating in a Black Lives Matter rally, left, march to downtown Pittsburgh to protest the death of George Floyd and people listen as President Donald Trump speaks during a rally Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photos)
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