President Obama Places the Capitol Police Actions in Context

Image by John Cameron @john-cameron; found via Unsplash

Former President Barack Obama’s denunciation of the Capitol riot and Trump’s incitement, aided by Republican elected officials, gained a great deal of press. You can read it here.

But there was less coverage of one of his tweets that I felt was extremely important.

In no uncertain terms, Obama called out the institutional racism affecting too many of the Capitol police. At this moment when we are all appropriately concerned about the violence and the horrors we saw, I think it’s important for us to look at the attitudes that allowed some of those police officers—who were there to protect the Capitol against the onslaught—to appear to side with the invaders.

Obama’s tweet pointed to a fivethirtyeight article titled: “The Police’s Tepid Response to the Capitol Breach Wasn’t an Aberration.”

The writers stated:

“As images from Wednesday’s riot by pro-Trump extremists at the U.S. Capitol filled our TV screens and social media feeds, one thing was notably absent: the kind of confrontation between police and protesters that we saw during the Black Lives Matter protests last summer.

“Even though the Capitol mob was far more violent — and seditious — than the largely peaceful BLM demonstrators, police responded far less aggressively toward them than toward BLM protesters across the country. Researchers who track this sort of thing for a living say that fits a pattern.”

Black (and left-wing) protesters have long stressed that they are routinely handled with excessive force when they demonstrate. Add to those groups the middle-class white people who became targets when they joined BLM peaceful demonstrations.

Now there’s some solid data backing up their claims. And the data was the part that Obama wanted to underscore.

Roudabeh Kishi is director of research and innovation for a nonprofit called Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Service (ACLED). This data-reporting effort had been focusing on Africa.

But in a move that shows us how dramatically altered the perceptions of our nation have become to the larger world, ACLED saw that its work was needed in the US in 2020.

Relying on sources as diverse as local media and non-governmental organizations, they’ve compiled data on protests per se, those marked by police interventions, and what kind of force the police used.

“We don’t necessarily have information on the number of Black vs. white protesters … but we do have a larger view,” Kishi said. “How is law enforcement responding to demonstrations associated with the Black Lives Matter movement versus demonstrations by the right wing … in support of [a] president that may or may not involve organized armed illegal groups?”

Keep in mind that we have seen some brutal right-wing demonstrations this year, including the barging into the Michigan capital building in what turned out to be a plot to kidnap and probably execute the Governor.

Nevertheless, during the period of the Black Lives Matter protests, police were more than twice as likely to break up what were called “left-wing” demonstrations than they were to break up right- wing gatherings (anti-mask, QAnon, pro-Trump extremists, and militia groups).

Importantly, they used force 34% of the time on right-wing demonstrators, compared with 51% on left-wing/BLM demonstrators. The BLM demonstrations were found to have been entirely peaceful 93% of the time.

Ed Maguire, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at Arizona State University who has interviewed many protesters, said that “Protesters on the left virtually universally believe the police are rougher on them, and protesters on the right almost universally believe police are on their side.”

It certainly looked like the latter in the Capitol building on January 6. To be sure, the videos show many of the officers, grossly undermanned, trying bravely to keep the insurrectionists at bay—and some of them were brutally attacked.

But 10 to 15 Capitol police officers are currently under investigation; we’re not sure exactly the reasons. And we know that state and local officials are now considering carefully whom to send to Washington to assist against additional terrorist threats because police officers traveled from other states to participate in the demonstration, and white supremacists have also been identified in the National Guard.

I’m glad Obama pointed out the data that underscore how much work needs to be done in policing and the justice system specifically, and in our institutions generally, to ensure that what I see as Reconstruction 2.0 is the one that finally brings lasting equity to our battered society.

Yet even as we strive to enact the necessary legislation to further that vision, Ed Maguire worries about how the police will now respond to demonstrators on the right or the left.

“Every other police department facing an angry crowd will be concerned about being overrun, and overcorrecting in response to that concern may lead to overly forceful, unconstitutional responses.”

President-elect Biden has said he’ll bring together representatives from the police and communities to establish workable approaches to policing that involve deescalation and accountability. That effort has now taken on new urgency.

But these domestic terrorists will not have a seat at that table. Perhaps because their anarchism has demonstrated that their claiming “Blue Lives Matter” doesn’t protect police from their murderous wrath, there will be fewer police officers willing to side with them now. One can only hope.

Defanging these raging armed extremists, some seeking “civil war,” will take a huge effort over time.

We are being tested as a nation, and we must not forget that all these extremists, including those in Congress and state legislatures who share their views that Black votes don’t matter, are trying to block this new Reconstruction 2.0. We must not let these Jim Crow wannabees stop this urgent movement forward.

As President Obama said in 2012:

“As it has for more than two centuries, progress will come in fits and starts. It’s not always a straight line. It’s not always a smooth path.”


19 thoughts on “President Obama Places the Capitol Police Actions in Context

  1. It’s going to be a hard fought transition but I believe law enforcement can change. We’ve seen sweeping changes to their approach in the past. It can happen again. Perhaps, Harris as VP can have a powerful impact. As a prosecutor, she’s straddled this fence over the course of her career and can perhaps speak to both sides. There are many outstanding questions regarding law enforcement’s inability to quickly put down Wednesday’s ad-hoc, yet long-predicted, uprising. Like you, I hope that revealing the truth behind the tepid response, will convince police officials throughout the nation that they absolutely need to address this glaringly unacceptable and seemingly ubiquitous problem.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Carol, I hope you’re right about Harris’s impact; she has proven herself to be a tough but compassionate prosecutor. Biden has also picked some real pros for the Justice Department, so that should help.

      I think a lot will depend on a) strong accountability measures imposed on those found to have participated in the
      Insurrection (or to have used excessive force on the job) that will also serve as a warning to others who might be tempted; and b) careful selection and training of police to ensure that the proverbial “bad apples” never earn a badge. That’s not an inclusive list; it’s a complex, multifaceted issue. I hope as we get more information, some clarity will emerge concerning the best paths ahead. The presence of white supremacists in our institutions has been a growing problem for years.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. During the height of the BLM protests last summer, so many people I spoke with expressed their outrage at the looting and violence that took place. (They skipped over the peaceful part.) Over this past week I was struck by how few even mentioned the horrific events at the Capitol. I pray (…well, meditate) for our Nation.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. This is so distressing, Fred. Truly astonishing—but important to know. I had deleted from my post a couple of passages about the “nice neighbors” who believe in conspiracy theories and wound up in the Capitol because it’s a separate topic—but one we must figure out how to address.
      I’m right there meditating with you.


    2. I’ve observed that too. I know one person who went on and on about the looting and rioting during the BLM last summer, and I’ve heard not a peep from him about the capital insurrection this week. So I emailed him, “So what do you think about the “law and order” president now?” The answer was silence….I would think a lot of them would be having difficulty defending Trump now.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh yes, he’s tried to blame the left wing antifas in the past…..and used to send me daily emails with articles supporting his views, (mostly from Fox & Co) but now nothing……

        Liked by 1 person

  3. The statistics you provide are eye-opening. They add the granularity to my more inchoate sense that the racial divide, the double standard, is alive and well in our police and their response to any kind of protest. I, too, put some faith in Kamala Harris and her ability to move the needle on this. She’s tough and she’s seasoned, which is going to help. I hope she meditates! She’ll need all the calm she can get with the mess she and President-elect Biden are inheriting.


    1. For sure, Denise. I also give credit to Biden for staying focused on the immediate future. Some have criticized him for not forcefully pushing the impeachment process, but he knows it’s in capable hands, and I can imagine that beyond his calm exterior, he’s infuriated at trump’s final effort to destroy the country and make Biden’s first hundred days even more complex than they already were,


    1. And what’s worse is that defilers and elected officials alike are using the scattered episodes of lawlessness that occurred during the BLM demonstrations as justification for their insurrection.


      1. I saw somewhere a comparison – BLM protests were about murder. These guys are protesting democracy. I’d give the credit if I remembered where I saw it.


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