On Jan. 6, a shocking event unfolded in the District of Columbia. An angry mob, some of whom were white supremacists and Proud Boys members, forced their way into the Capitol building in hopes of halting the inevitable confirmation of then-President-elect Joe Biden. Amid the pandemonium, rioters overwhelmed Capitol police and forced senators, representatives and assembly people to evacuate the chambers into an emergency stronghold.
Protests, riots and unrest are all too familiar in these recent times. During the summer of 2020, the murders of Black citizens, such as George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbury, also triggered mass protests in multiple areas across the country. In these instances, however, police held their ground through the use of tear gas, rubber bullets and increased fortifications. In Oregon, law enforcement even resorted to abducting protesters in unmarked vans and relocating them to areas with less public resistance.
Sophomore Noah Teves says, “I noticed that the police for the BLM protests seemed much more on edge. I think the police took a much more aggressive approach against the BLM protests than the Capitol Building riots.”
The apparent dichotomy between these two scenes–one of underwhelming security at the Capitol building and the other of rigid enforcement on the streets of Minneapolis, Portland and Los Angeles–bring attention to the racial biases still present in today’s police force.
The events on Jan. 6 left many questioning why police were ready to protect the streets from peaceful BLM protesters but unprepared to protect the Capitol Building from armed Trump supporters. Surely, if law enforcement had anticipated an angry mob fueled by constant and frequent calls of election fraud in the past days, police may have easily protected lawmakers using proper precautions. Some attribute the lackadaisical protection to police sympathy for and support of pro-Trump ideals echoed by the rioters. Others argue that the protestors would have been fiercely resisted or even killed if they had been Black.
Sophomore Pefnotious Salib observes, “There was definitely much more of a police presence at the BLM protests than there was at the riots, even though the rioters were literally storming the Capitol Building.”
Although both protests were subject to looting and radical violence, and although plenty were arrested in both cases, many peaceful BLM protesters were arrested on nights during the protests simply for violating a curfew. Meanwhile, most election protesters–who vandalized and trespassed into a government building–were tracked down and arrested many days afterward. The stark contrast in initial police response toward a mostly white population of pro-Trump protesters versus a mixed population of BLM supporters reveals that racial biases are perhaps still held by many law enforcement officers around the nation.
Despite the valiant efforts of some officers to protect democracy, such as officer Eugene Goodman, who was awarded the Congressional gold medal after protecting the building from a violent mob, other officers were seen cooperating and sympathizing with protesters by removing barriers and allowing unfettered entrance into protected areas. Some officers even took cordial pictures alongside rioters. Although not all law enforcement officeres are avid backers of ‘Trumpism’ and extremist views, the lingering presence of pro-Trump ideology–sometimes including white supremacy and anti-BLM dogma–in some areas of policing shows that racism still exists among the nation’s protectors.
Of course, this instance is by no means an entire call to impugn the police system in America as fervently racist. In fact, this event serves as yet another reason to renew and revisit notions of law enforcement for a nation of equality and security. Americans should view this striking contrast as a moment of consciousness from an ignorant slumber and should grasp this awakening as an opportunity to ameliorate a polarized nation by uniting under a just cause to defeat the lingering traces of racism.