Addressing the Racial Disparity: Capitol Riots vs. BLM Protests

Written by: Mariah

Edited by: Joaquin

Visual by: Solenne

An armed insurrection. An assault on American democracy. An act of domestic terrorism. Both Republican and Democratic politicians used these words to describe the infamous riots that took place in the U.S. Capitol last January 6. As members of Congress gathered to certify the election results, a mob of Trump’s supporters stormed the building, incited by their refusal to accept President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. Increased disinformation and political polarization in the country, issues roused during Trump’s administration, fueled the riot. However, this is more than an angry mob denying the election results and a president’s stubbornness to concede. Deep-rooted racial inequality brought by police and government impartiality and white extremism are at the heart of one of America’s darkest days.

The tepid response of the police force towards the rioters raised indignant curiosity. The rioters breached a federal building with a police force of more than 2,300, yet a mere 70 people were arrested. This stood in sharp comparison to the 427 people who were arrested in DC last year from Black Lives Matter protests after the killing of George Floyd. Although most BLM protests were peaceful, large numbers of police officers tear-gassed, pepper-sprayed, and shot rubber bullets at protesters. This disparity is exactly what activists have been fighting against all along. While people of color fought for their lives and protested to be seen and heard, white insurrectionists felt at ease taking selfies with police officers who wouldn’t hurt them. The whiteness of the rioters acted as a shield against police brutality. “When Black people protest for our lives, we are all too often met by National Guard troops or police equipped with assault rifles, shields, tear gas and battle helmets,” the Black Lives Matter Global Network said in a statement. “Make no mistake, if the protesters were Black, we would have been tear-gassed, battered, and perhaps shot.” 

White supremacy is at the core of the insurrection. It’s not a coincidence that the Confederate flag, a symbol of white dominance, was present at the riots. It’s also not a coincidence that a majority of the rioters were white and Republican. Research by social psychologists Maureen Craig and Jennifer Richeson found that white Americans develop more negative racial attitudes toward changing racial demographics, with a rapid increase of Hispanics and a steady rise of African-Americans and Asians over the past decade. Thus, they have a stronger attachment to the Republican party and express greater political conservatism. The Republican party is widely perceived to favor white interests, such as adopting conservative views towards minorities and immigrants. It’s an idea that predates Trump, although his rise to power has strengthened that claim. Trump has fueled the ideology of white supremacy and of police brutality during his presidency. In a country with growing racial diversity, whites may feel that their position in the social hierarchy is threatened. White Republicans who identify with Trump’s “America First” campaign view him as an icon of white dominance, and saw the loss of his power as a rejection of this ideology. The rioters did not simply come in defense of Donald Trump. They came in defense of white supremacy.

The riots were a dark day for America. The law enforcement’s inability to prevent rioters from storming the Capitol dismantled countries’ global perception of the United States. Several world leaders and politicians expressed their distress at Trump’s inability to respect the electoral process. “The U.S. has lost its moral authority to preach democracy and human rights to other countries. It has become part of the problem,” stated Charles Santiago, the chair of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights. The fact that racial inequality still runs deep in a multiracial country causes distrust in the government and the police. The display of white extremism and the racial disparity between the reaction to the Capitol riots and BLM protests also impact future generations of children of color. Seeing Black, Indigenous, and brown people being oppressed by the police while their white counterparts walk away untouched stirs sensitive questions: why doesn’t my life matter as much as theirs?

Sources:

“Capitol Siege: If Rioters Were Black, ‘Hundreds’ Would Be Killed.” Aljazeera.com, Al Jazeera, 8 Jan. 2021, www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/1/8/if-rioters-who-stormed-capitol-hundreds-would-have.

Cineas, Fabiola. “Trump Supporters Rioted At.” Vox, Vox, 8 Jan. 2021, www.vox.com/2021/1/8/22221078/us-capitol-trump-riot-insurrection

Fadel, Leila. “‘Now The World Gets To See The Difference’: BLM Protesters On The Capitol Attack.” NPR.org, 9 Jan. 2021, www.npr.org/2021/01/09/955221274/now-the-world-gets-to-see-the-difference-blm-protesters-on-the-capitol-attack.

Hauck, Grace. “‘Double Standard’: Biden, Black Lawmakers and Activists Decry Police Response to Attack on US Capitol.” USA TODAY, USA TODAY, 6 Jan. 2021, amp-usatoday-com.cdn.ampproject.org/v/s/amp.usatoday.com/amp/6570528002?amp_gsa=1&amp_js_v=a6&usqp=mq331AQHKAFQArABIA%3D%3D#amp_tf=From%20%251%24s&aoh=16103625707089&referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com&ampshare=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.usatoday.com%2Fstory%2Fnews%2Fnation%2F2021%2F01%2F06%2Fus-capitol-attack-compared-response-black-lives-matter-protests%2F6570528002%2F

Jefferson, Hakeem. “Storming The U.S. Capitol Was About Maintaining White Power In America.” FiveThirtyEight, FiveThirtyEight, 8 Jan. 2021, fivethirtyeight.com/features/storming-the-u-s-capitol-was-about-maintaining-white-power-in-america/