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.”