If I’d Attacked the Capitol, I’d Probably Be Dead by Now
There’s a big difference between how the Capitol rioters and the Black Lives Matter protesters were treated. Here's why we have to talk about it.
I am a Black woman, and if I had been the one who’d attacked the Capitol on January 6 and attempted to overthrow the U.S. government, I have no doubt that things would have gone very differently for me than it did for most of the rioters. And it’s something that I can’t stop thinking about.
If I had smashed the Capitol’s windows or broken through the Senate chamber’s doors, I probably would have been met with deadly force. Had I gotten close enough to a police officer to drag him down a flight of stairs, let alone batter him with a flag pole, that officer or another would have opened fire on me. Had I waltzed through a government building carrying a podium seized as a trophy, I can imagine being tackled to the marble floor and beaten within an inch of my life. I would not have been considered a “patriot,” and I certainly would not have been called “very special” by the president of the United States. This is the personification of the double standard applied to protesters of different skin colors.
A stark contrast and a false equivalency
It’s important to compare the insurrection at the Capitol with Black Lives Matter protests because it so starkly demonstrates the fundamental racism in this country, especially when it comes to how police treat protesters. For starters, the overwhelming majority of Black Lives Matter protests in response to the murder of George Floyd were peaceful—93 percent of them, in fact, according to recent research. There were marches, speeches, and powerful signs, and when some protesters crossed the line into bad behavior, there were consequences. These protests were also driven by an appeal for justice and equal treatment following police brutality and systemic racism—compared with the Capitol rioters, who were seeking to overturn the results of an election they simply didn’t like.
Despite the largely peaceful demonstrations and BLM’s goals of achieving racial equality, BLM protesters were often on the receiving end of violence from counter-protesters or police who fired pepper spray and rubber bullets at them. Law enforcement even tear-gassed peaceful protesters to clear the area for a presidential photo opp. Let that sink in for a moment.
Plus, if history is any guide, there’s no way BLM protesters would have ever gotten this close to the Capitol—they would have been seen as a threat even before they took to the streets. In anticipation of the protests against racial injustice in D.C. last June, the National Guard was deployed before the marches even started and lined the steps of the Washington Monument. Law enforcement was told to “dominate the streets.” During the insurrection of January 6, the Capitol police were “unprepared” and were reportedly told to simply control the mostly White crowd. When that proved impossible, their calls for help went unanswered for hours. And don’t forget that all of this happened after security experts warned of the very real threat of violence, which was also discussed pretty openly on social media.
The attack on the Capitol was an act of domestic terrorism driven by hate and oppression. It was not a peaceful protest, and it wasn’t about equality—it was about silencing the voices of some voters, many of whom are people of color. It was filled with Nazi symbolism and hateful rhetoric, and Confederate flags were on full display. Some of the participants were armed. The violence was fomented by the debunked conspiracy theory that the presidential election was stolen, and the rioters’ goal was to stop a constitutional process, the official certification of the results.
Yet during this attempted coup, only 61 people were arrested, mostly for violating the 6 p.m. curfew. Compare that with the 361 people arrested for “unrest” on June 1, 2020, during the BLM protest in Washington. Let’s not forget that the BLM protest was non-violent—or that five people died during the attack on the Capitol, including a police officer who was beaten with a fire extinguisher and a woman who was trampled by the mob.
Free from consequences
Many insurrectionists live-streamed, gave media interviews, and posted pictures of their illegal acts. Their actions remind me of White people openly celebrating a Jim Crow-era lynching because they felt protected from any consequences. And why not? Elected officials at every level encouraged and supported their actions, and the rioters also have many supporters in law enforcement. Pictures emerged of Capitol police removing barricades, letting in the rioters, and taking selfies with some of them. While federal authorities have continued to arrest some of the Capitol rioters after the fact, it is too little too late.
Many pundits and politicians have feigned surprise at what happened on January 6. They say, “This isn’t who we are.” But our history says this is exactly who we are. Our collective past is rife with mob violence by groups who won’t accept change—and it’s often linked to issues of equality. That ugly truth has never been clearer than it is right now. But it doesn’t have to be this way, and things may finally be starting to change. By having these difficult conversations and acknowledging how deeply these injustices and disparate treatments run through our nation’s bloodstream, we can begin to heal and truly move forward.
For more on this important issue, see our guide to the Fight Against Racism.
Editor’s note: The opinions here belong to the author. To submit your own idea for an essay, email [email protected].
- ACLED: “Demonstrations & Political Violence in America: New Data for Summer 2020”
- CNN: “DC police made far more arrests at the height of Black Lives Matter protests than during the Capitol clash”