On Wednesday, a violent mob of the president’s supporters besieged the United States Capitol and managed to disrupt a joint session of Congress that was on track to certify the electoral college votes for President of the United States. Mobsters were met with relatively little resistance and managed to enter the building, causing lawmakers to adjourn their session, hide, equip themselves with gas masks, and eventually evacuate. The attack has left five dead, and leaders around the world have condemned President Trump for inciting an insurrection.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the press Friday, stating “What we witnessed was an assault on democracy by violent rioters, incited by the current president and other politicians.”
It was a harrowing scene, but law enforcement’s response to the attack was a remarkable failure – perhaps the largest law enforcement disaster in a generation – and remains incredibly distinct from the response to peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstrations that occured over the summer.
The unthinkable occurred. Mobsters waved Trump flags and posed for selfies on the floor of the United States Senate. One proud white nationalist, Richard Barnett, entered the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi’s office and took photos as he sat with his feet up on her desk. Meanwhile, lawmakers were being led down elevators and through tunnels beneath the Capitol by police.
“I wasn’t surprised that there was [little] law enforcement,” said Sascha Lewit, 19, who attended several Black Lives Matter protests in New York City last summer. “Because we had seen in every other counter-protest situation the difference with how BLM protestors would be treated and how the Trump supporters would be treated in brawling and fighting during a protest. I had already seen that in person.”
Lewit was one of hundreds of protestors who shut down George Washington Bridge on Sept. 12, and marched to the 34th Precinct in Washington Heights to demand that lawmakers pass the Breathe Act, a bill that would reallocate funding from police departments to minority communities.
After demonstrators left the bridge and approached the precinct, they were kettled, a police tactic in which demonstrators are surrounded and prevented from leaving a contained area. The demonstrators were not engaging in violence, but were listening to an organizer read a list of offenses committed by officers from the 34th precinct.
Police came out of the precinct in riot gear.
“There’s a brawl going on in the street, bikes are flying, one guy’s bike was completely wrecked,” said Lewit. “Mind you, we had no weapons, we were not being violent. They just came at us.”
Lewit managed to escape, though promptly changed clothes as she realized the group was being followed by an NYPD helicopter. She waited underneath a building’s awning until the helicopter disappeared.
Police are sympathetic to right-wing causes, according to Lewit. She believes this helps explain what occurred on Wednesday.
“They see [Trump’s rioters] as their brothers,” she said. “That’s their family, those are their beliefs. What was shocking was just how much they got away with. It was really a show of how deep the issue of police brutality and racism is.”
Another frequent Black Lives Matter demonstrator, Lucinda Cooper, 19, shares the same sentiment.
“While during the BLM protests, the police and national guard seemed to want to intimidate protestors and asserted control over the situation at any opportunity, Wednesday they hardly kept rioters from breaking the windows of the United States Capitol building,” she said.
Cooper believes the president shoulders most of the blame.
“[Trump] and his melting crook lawyer and cabinet have invited violence against anyone and everyone that they disagree with or want to use as a scapegoat throughout his administration and this situation was no different,” said Cooper.
Politics cannot be separated from policing. In 2016, 84 percent of police officers supported Mr. Trump. Social media captured police taking selfies with mobsters, and removing police barriers in front of the Capitol Wednesday. That day, as the world condemned the terrorists who occupied the United States Capitol, police made only 14 arrests.
The situation that unfolded in Washington illustrated as clear as day the inequities in American policing and the burgeoning and unmitigated epidemic of white nationalism. In his first 2020 presidential debate, Trump told white nationalist groups to “Stand back and stand by”. They listened.