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Double Standards on Capitol Hill: Racial Disparities in Law Enforcement

Double Standards on Capitol Hill: Racial Disparities in Law Enforcement

It is Wednesday afternoon on a cloudy 6th of January, marking the certification of the electoral college votes from the 2020 Presidential election. Both chambers of Congress are debating in their separate rooms after an objection to the electoral votes from the state of Arizona, courtesy of the Republican party. 

The Attack on Capitol Hill

Just before, Vice President Mike Pence presided over both houses of Congress for the quadrennial ceremony. It was in both of these chambers that Congressmen and women were alerted of a security breach to the United States Capitol: an army of Trump supporters managed to breach the entrance at the People’s Building. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and newly elected Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer were escorted out by their security teams first, and shortly after were the remaining members of the House and Senate moved to a discreet, undisclosed location inside the Capitol. 

At around 3:30 pm EST, the mob of Trump supporters finally entered the Capitol. Hundreds of them were seen in the Capitol lobby wandering about and dozens were seen rummaging through the hallways of the two century old building, with statues of philosophers and America’s Founding Fathers stone-faced in the background. 

The actions and behavior of the pro-Trump mob is as follows: there are reports that several individuals involved in this invasion were armed, with small handguns and long guns. The FBI reported that there were pipe bombs found at the Democratic and Republican Headquarters, as well as a truck filled with bombs near the Capitol building. 

The attitude of the mob during this invasion should also be noted. Many images of the situation can be found circulating around social media of Trump supporters vandalizing the inside of the Capitol by placing a Confederate flag or “Trump 2020” flag in the hands of a statue, for instance. Another, of a man carrying House Speaker Pelosi’s lectern. 

More infamously is the image of a man breaking into Speaker Pelosi’s office, sitting in her office with both feet on her desk and reportedly leaving a note, writing, “We will not back down”. I should mention that the three gentlemen listed above are all white men. Now what time did these three men and the Trump mob have to do this damage? How did they get in? Why weren’t they stopped? These are all questions that have been raised by news anchors, people taking to social media to voice their confusion, and just about anyone watching all of this unfold live on Wednesday afternoon. 

White Nationalism

The way of explaining these events does not simply reside in the unpreparedness of Capitol police , but may simply be the result of white privilege. Several individuals have pointed out the disparities between  how officers treated protesters during last year’s Black Lives Matter protests and the “protests” that we’ve seen on Wednesday. The stark contrast lies in the demographic of the participants in each event. 

The Black Lives Matter protests were mainly people of color, mostly Black Americans, protesting against the killing of unarmed Black civilians and excessive use of police force. The protests that took place on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, which arguably should be listed as a “riot”, showed a sea of white faces, and the reasoning behind their action was to contest the results of an election they lost. 

The mob attempted to put a halt to the democratic processes and transfer of power that our country is used to. The disparity of each protest raises the question of what would Wednesday have looked like if the protesters were any shade but white?

Why was this group of protesters let in with no restraint into a federal building when just seven months ago, protesters were being tear gassed, arrested in mass for kneeling in protest, had police cars driven into crowds, and more, for much less? If this crowd was filled with Black and Brown people, how much quicker would the National Guard have arrived at the scene. I will assume that the death toll would be much higher than the five individuals who lost their lives on Wednesday.

The ongoing matter reaches deeper than what we Americans can imagine. I read a Twitter post arguing that white privilege cannot be the only explanation for what happened; it’s the ability to commit a crime so outrageous that there must be something more sinister at play.  The attitude of the pro-Trump mob was that the fate of their country is at stake and they’re the only ones who can stop it. They drew the conclusion that they’re the “last resort” to save America. They’re waging a war that does not exist.

Why is America so afraid of Black and Brown faces? Why are we so deadly? Why are you so afraid of us? The greatest crimes committed to this nation, the greatest terrorist threat is done by white nationalism, and not by people of color. In addition to the above statement, the Department of Homeland Security reported that white supremacists are the deadliest terror threat to the United States. 

Past events in American history like the Charleston Church shooting in 2015 or the Tulsa Massacre nearly a century ago, reveal just some of the greatest crimes that have horrified this country, and the threat is still ongoing today. In both events, white supremacy ideology conflicted with the liberties of African Americans, in their belief that they must take it upon themselves to save their country from demise.

I have reflected greatly on that day in American history. I have watched people on different social media platforms make jokes about the situation, perhaps to invoke dark humor or to look for comic relief.

On Wednesday afternoon, I sat in front of my tv screen listening to news anchors every hour talk about the fragility of our democracy, as they phoned Congressmen and women who were hiding in the Capital’s bunkers, speaking with shaky breaths about what unfolded in front of their eyes. I sat in front of my tv screen watching the events play out at the Capitol until late in the evening. I refused to bring myself to tears in defeat. I am left with one question: How do we go forward?