For many Black Americans, Wednesday’s deadly mob insurrection in Washington, D.C. and the manner in which it was managed by police was yet the latest affirmation of the double standards inherent in a nation built upon a foundation of slavery—in the case of the U.S. Capitol literally so—and enduring racial oppression.
Incited by calls from President Donald Trump and his leading accolytes to “take back our country” in a “trial by combat,” hundreds of die-hard loyalists—almost all of them white—violently attacked the beating heart of American democracy while lawmakers attempted to perform their crucial duty.
Some of the police officers stood aside and even opened the gates so the insurrectionists, some reportedly armed with guns and bombs, could rush in. Others scaled walls and surged past overwhelmed officers to join the marauding MAGA mob inside. Many of the attackers appeared unopposed as they ransacked and looted the place while lawmakers and staff fled for their lives.
When police finally regained control of the building, some of them laughed and posed for selfies with the seditious invaders. Another officer held hands with a trespasser to help her down the Capitol steps.
The contrast between Wednesday’s attempted coup against the United States government and police treatment of Black Lives Matter protests in Washington, D.C. and around the country in recent years is, as numerous observers have noted, “black and white.”
“It’s definitely a difference,” Lecia Brooks, chief of staff at the Southern Poverty Law Center, told The Globe and Mail. “It is a starkly different picture when the protesters are white. This is white privilege. These Trump supporters can walk boldly in to take over the… Capitol.”
When racial justice advocates peacefully protested in Washington last summer for Black lives cut short by police and white supremacist violence, the response from law enforcement was swift and brutal.
Although the protesters were a block away from the White House and did not attempt to breach its grounds, thousands of heavily armed federal and local law enforcement officers, backed by military air support and surveillance, were deployed to brutally disperse them so that Trump could make his way to a nearby church to pose for a photo with a Bible.
It was a scene repeated around the nation during Black Lives Matter protests in recent years. Indigenous, anti-war, and other protesters have experienced similarly horrific violence. But Blacks have borne the brunt of such brutality ever since they started standing up for their lives, their dignity, and their equality.
“White privilege is on display like never before in the U.S. Capitol,” noted author and scholar Ibram X. Kendi. “If these people were Black… well, we all know what would be happening right now to them.”
In an interview with MSNBC on Wednesday, newly sworn-in Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) agreed, saying that “had it been people who look like me, had it been the same amount of people, but had they been Black and Brown, we wouldn’t have made it up those steps. We wouldn’t have made it to be able to get into the door and bust windows and go put our feet up on the desks of Congress members.”
“It was white privilege, and it was the call of our president and it was encouraged by our Republican colleagues,” said Bush, who on Wednesday said she would introduce a resolution calling for the expulsion of GOP lawmakers whom she accused of inciting the violence.
Condemning Wednesday’s attack as “domestic terrorism at its worst,” human rights advocate Martin Luther King III—whose father was assassinated for championing Black lives and opposing what he called the “evil triplets” of racism, militarism, and materialism—told 9 News Australia that the police reaction to the Trumpist “treason” was “white privilege on steroids.”
“If you look at how Black Lives Matter demonstrations—peaceful demonstrations—have been handled, and how these individuals were able to get into the Capitol… and offices of Congress members, this is perplexing,” said King. “And it’s all because the president called for it. Under a different set of circumstances, he would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”