Capitol Riot

Police Reaction to White Rioters Raises Questions of Unequal Treatment

A veteran of Black Lives Matter protests says "kid gloves" treatment of some rioters at Capitol shows evidence of police bias, but veteran police leader notes not all protests are the same.

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Watching the ease with which a mob of white Trump supporters breached and looted the Capitol, veterans of social justice protests met with forceful police reactions last summer say the reaction would have been different if the rioters were Black.

In June, Black Lives Matter protesters who stood between Trump and a Bible-toting photo op in front of a church were dispersed by chemical irritants, baton strikes and police shoving them with riot shields.

Wednesday, Capitol Police were quickly overrun by hundreds of rioters. One rioter was shot to death by a police officer as she tried to enter the House speaker's lobby.

But that was the exception.

"It was a prime time display of what Black Americans and Latino Americans and Native Americans have always known. That we live in two different Americas," said Michael Howson, of the BLM Alliance of Broward County.

Noting one of the Capitol police officers posed for a selfie with one of the rioters inside the building, Howson, who is Black, said when white people confront authority, the response is "very well thought out, very measured and very kid-glove friendly.  When the protesters look like myself, we see there are hoses, dogs, bean bags and rubber bullets."

But Juan Perez, former Mimi-Dade police director, said two very different situations -- not participants' races -- may explain the disparate treatment.

"Every protest -- even with the same groups involved -- can be different," Perez said, noting some protests last year were of long duration and happened repeatedly.

"I think if this would’ve been a prolonged situation, that you see a return of this protest again, you're going to see a whole different presence of law enforcement and they're going to have the appropriate rules of engagement."

Perez said he could not critique the operation, as not enough is known publicly about how Capitol Police prepared for a protest they knew would take place Wednesday on the Mall.

Howson said the insurrectionists had made their intention known on social media for weeks, and Trump exhorted them to come to Washington Wednesday, promising it would be "wild."

"Where were the dogs, where were the fire hoses, where was the tear gas, where were the rubber bullets and the bean bags to repel this invading force on our Capitol?" Howson asked.

Both agreed the police did not seem prepared for the onslaught that arrived on the Capitol's doorstep.

"I do not know how much they expected or they knew that the Capitol building was going to be a target of the protest," Perez said.

But there were posts online for weeks calling for Trump supporters to occupy the Capitol, and last week the Washington Post reported chatter among white nationalists about violence, smuggled guns and an armed encampment on the Mall.

Howson said he suspects police would’ve been ready for battle if that intel came from the chats among Black Lives Matter activists, instead of among white insurrectionists.

"There is a clear difference in the use of force across this country when they’re dealing with non-Black individuals and when they're dealing with Black individuals. Period."

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