Reflecting on what I can only call a blatant attack on democracy last week as pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol, I can’t help but think how the outcome would’ve been different had the rioters looked different.
As the group of violent protestors broke into the Capitol on Wednesday, they were met by Capitol Police, but videos show officers opening up gates to allow them to get closer to the buildings. Some videos and photos even show officers taking selfies with rioters.
Can you imagine if the rioters had been mostly Black? Can you imagine if they had been Native American? Can you imagine if they had been largely Muslim? I think they would’ve been met with brute military-style force. I think the outcome would’ve been far more deadly. But they were largely Anglo. It’s time — again — to reckon with how differently law enforcement treat people of color and with how news organizations would’ve framed this event had the rioters looked different. Had they been people of color, or had they been advocating for a different cause, I would venture to say many news outlets would be calling this what it is: domestic terrorism. But some are going as vanilla as labeling it as a “protest.”
An opinion piece written by author and activist Roxanne Gay titled “We’ve seen the ugly truth about America,” reflects on the assault on the Capitol, and her piece is framed by two photos: one of the Capitol on the day of a Black Lives Matter protest in June and another of it last Wednesday. In the former photo, countless National Guard officers in full fatigues, armed to the gills, are stationed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. In the second, MAGA hat-wearing rioters are scaling the walls of the Capitol building largely unchecked.
What’s more shocking about this is that the siege we all witnessed was in the works for months. Massive Facebook groups were formed to bring together like-minded individuals who believed baseless claims about election fraud and plans for an incident like this were born. We had a warning, and yet a Black Lives Matter march warranted more security. That doesn’t add up to me.
Gay writes that “(o)n Wednesday, the world bore witness to white supremacy unchecked. I nearly choked on the bitter pill of what white people who no doubt condemned Black Lives Matter protesters as ‘thugs’ felt so entitled to do.” While some might balk at calling Wednesday’s travesty “white supremacy,” I do not. Photos taken of rioters at the Capitol show that some of them were wearing gear representing NCS131, a New England-based Neo Nazi organization. Others wore clothing with crusader crosses, harkening back to a time of Christian wars against Muslims and Jews. Some members of the hate group the Proud Boys were present, unmistakable in their yellow and black labeled gear, with one of them spotted wearing a shirt bearing the slogan “6MNE,” which stands for “6 million not enough,” in reference to the number of Jews killed during the Holocaust. One man was even spotted with a sweatshirt that said “Camp Auschwitz” with the word “Staff” printed on the back.
These were atrocious, blatant displays of hate and white supremacist ideology. It’s terrifying to think why these people espousing hate were treated so mildly in comparison to protestors advocating for their lives.
In the wake of last Wednesday’s riot, several people lost their lives. That is heartbreaking. But it’s time to reckon with why the response was so different.