January 6, as the two chambers of Congress convened to count
Electoral College votes and officially certify Joe Biden as the
president-elect of the United States, a violent mob stormed the US
Capitol in support of President Donald Trump and his false allegation
that the presidential contest was “stolen” through voter
Confederate flags and wearing red “Make America Great Again”
hats, hundreds of rioters broke through barricades, smashed windows
and entered congressional offices and chambers. After wreaking havoc
on the very heart of American democracy and live-streaming their
unlawful actions on social media for several hours, the rioters left
the Capitol with ease, with only a few dozen of them being detained.
Some even carried “souvenirs” with them as they walked
where were the mighty US security forces during this unprecedented
domestic terror attack? How did a bunch of violent white supremacists
manage to breach a high-security federal building, defile the “seat
of American democracy”, threaten the lives of some of America’s
highest-ranking elected representatives, and leave without facing any
real resistance from the police?
authorities tried to explain their failure to swiftly secure the
Capitol and detain those responsible for the attack by claiming that
they were “underprepared” and did not have the necessary
resources at their service to keep the angry mob under control. They
said their officers were simply “overwhelmed”.
excuses did not sit well with anyone who watched the US security
forces clamp down on last year’s racial justice protests, which
were overwhelmingly peaceful, using not only excessive force but also
seemingly limitless resources.
June 1, when Black Lives Matter demonstrators peacefully gathered
near the White House to demand an end to impunity for the police
killing of Black Americans, for example, the US security forces were
neither “underprepared” nor “overwhelmed”.
charged on the mostly Black crowd, situated almost a block away from
the White House, with a large force made up of Washington police, US
Park Police, National Guard troops, and members of other federal
agencies. Army helicopters swooped low over the heads of protesters,
forcing them to disperse. And when Trump wanted to stage a photo op
outside a church across the street, officers used tear gas, batons
and horses to quickly clear the president’s way.
day, 289 Black Lives Matter protesters were arrested. The protesters
never even came close to breaching the White House and were doing
nothing other than exercising their First Amendment right to protest,
but nonetheless, they faced the full force of US law enforcement.
the following days, as Black Lives Matter protests gathered steam
across the country, the National Guard from several states were
deployed to Washington, DC to guard federal buildings and public
monuments. They stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in full
military gear in an ironic show of force against thousands of
peaceful protesters calling for racialized police brutality to come
to an end. Meanwhile, federal police patrolled the streets of the
capital without nameplates or badges. Some 14,000 arrests were made
across 49 US cities during anti-racism protests last summer,
according to The
very same security forces that cracked down on overwhelmingly
peaceful racial justice protests with such “efficiency”
just a few months ago, however, were not able (or willing) to defend
the US Capitol against a relatively small mob on January 6.
the riot on January 6 did not come as a surprise to anyone, let alone
the security agencies who had months ago warned that “white
supremacists present the gravest terror threat to the US”.
White supremacist groups and individuals who led the attack on the
Capitol advertised their plans for violence on social media for
everyone to see long before they travelled to Washington, DC.
day before the riot, the FBI issued a report warning of a violent
“war” at the US Capitol, which authorities did not heed
or take seriously. Meanwhile, President Trump himself proclaimed
January 6 a day of reckoning and urged his supporters to come to the
Capitol on that day to help him overturn the election. “Big
protest in DC on January 6th,” he tweeted on December 19, “Be
there, will be wild!”
as the images of a handful of officers unsuccessfully trying to keep
the angry crowds behind a few light-weight barriers outside the
Capitol building clearly demonstrated, the US security apparatus was
neither prepared nor overly eager to get this riot under control.
did security forces treat Black Lives Matter protesters and pro-Trump
rioters so differently?
the storming of the Capitol was not only about overturning the
election but also maintaining white supremacy in an increasingly
diverse America. This was evident in most rioters carrying not only
pro-Trump insignia but also confederate flags and neo-Nazi emblems as
they ransacked congressional offices and chambers.
law enforcement itself has a long history of acting as a tool for
maintaining white power in America, the security forces are not
inclined to see overwhelmingly white, nationalist groups as threats.
So while they are always prepared to crush even the most peaceful
protests led by Americans of color, they are often reluctant to
intervene with force when white Americans, who they view as their
primary supporters and benefactors, resort to unlawfulness and
violence to preserve their privilege.
social media footage from the Capitol riot show not only that the
authorities failed to take the threat posed by the pro-Trump white
nationalist gathering seriously, but also that some of the officers
on the ground viewed the rioters as allies. Several officers were
filmed joking, shaking hands or taking selfies with the rioters
inside the Capitol building. One officer allegedly donned a MAGA hat
and directed the pro-Trump mob around the Capitol building. According
New York Times,
another officer tried to direct rioters to the office of then Senate
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
were also numerous off-duty police officers, military veterans and
other security personnel actively participating in the riots in a
personal capacity. Larry Rendall Brock Jr, a retired air force
lieutenant colonel, for example, was pictured wearing combat gear and
carrying zip-tie handcuffs in the Senate chamber. Ashli Babbitt, the
woman who was shot and killed as she was trying to breach a
barricaded door in Congress, was also an air force veteran.
Seattle police officers who allegedly travelled to Washington, DC to
participate in Trump’s Stop the Steal “rally” were
put on administrative leave so it can be determined whether they took
part in the consequent riots. In the coming days, as we learn more
about the rioters, we will most certainly hear many more stories of
officers and other security personnel actively participating in, or
at least voicing their support for, this attack on American
police’s subdued and inefficient response to and tacit support
for the Capitol riot was not an isolated incident. American police
have long been treating white vigilantes who resort to violence to
maintain white supremacy and suppress movements for racial justice
with kid gloves. This is why far-right vigilantes felt emboldened
enough to threaten and violently assault Black Lives Matter
protesters hundreds of times in the last year. And this is why Kyle
Rittenhouse was not immediately arrested after opening fire on
anti-racist protesters in Kenosha.
police support for angry white mobs targeting Americans of color did
not start during the Trump presidency either. Throughout US history,
the police often either tacitly approved or actively participated in
racist mob violence against Black Americans.
the deadly New Orleans race riots in 1900, for example, as journalist
Ida B Wells-Barnett explains, “The police and the legally
constituted authorities showed plainly where their sympathies were,
for in no case reported through the daily papers does there appear
the arrest, trial and conviction of one of the mob for any of the
brutalities which occurred. The ringleaders of the mob were at no
1898, when a mob of 400 white supremacists staged a coup against the
local government of Wilmington, North Carolina, the police once again
did nothing to stop the attack which resulted in dozens of deaths, or
bring the perpetrators to justice.
1921, a white mob decimated the thriving Black community of Tulsa,
Oklahoma, massacring hundreds, destroying homes and businesses and
leaving thousands homeless. Bombs were dropped from airplanes on what
was known as Black Wall Street in what is now considered the first
aerial bombing of a US city. Despite all this, the local police and
the National Guard did nothing to protect the victims or hold those
responsible to account.
later, in 1985, the second aerial bombing of a US city took place,
and the target was once again Black Americans. The Philadelphia
police bombed a home occupied by the Black radical group MOVE,
killing 11 people, including five children, and burning a city block
of 61 homes to the ground, leaving more than 250 homeless. Despite
two grand jury investigations, a civil suit, and a commission report
that defined the bombing as “reckless, ill-conceived, and
hastily-approved”, no one was ever criminally charged for the
there is no reason to wonder why the police failed to secure the
Capitol on January 6. The American police are efficient and ready to
crush any dissent with excessive force – but only when the
perpetrators are Black. In the land of the free, police afford white
terrorists more respect than peaceful Black protesters, and this is
This commentary was originally published by Aljazeera.com