Last week, a mob of overwhelmingly white people broke into the Capitol and successfully halted the democratic process of certifying a new American president. While the disruption was temporary, it exposed an indelible defect in the institution of American policing.
Many have asked why police at the nation’s capital were caught unprepared and why the mob that broke Capitol windows; marched through with confederate flags, metal pipes and firearms; rummaged through legislators’ offices; descended upon the lectern in the House Chamber; and terrorized members of Congress were noticeably unafraid. The contrast between the restraint police showed mostly white Trump loyalists versus how aggressively and violently police responded to Black Lives Matter activists has escaped few.
It's already clear there are two different Americas for white and Black people. Driving while Black, sitting in Starbucks while Black, carrying a Subway sandwich while Black, bird-watching while Black, protesting while Black: These innocent activities can be dangerous for Black and brown people.
What most of us did not realize is that conversely, law enforcement could not fathom the threat of predominantly white agitators with sticks and stones at the steps of the Capitol and intent on insurrection.
This mob has been courted by law enforcement throughout this summer and fall to help control Black Lives Matter and other racial justice protesters.
Despite the shock that now reverberates across the country, these events were predictable. This mob — or these terrorists, as some are now calling them — has been courted by law enforcement throughout this summer and fall to help control Black Lives Matter and other racial justice protesters. BLM marchers encountered militarized warrior cops riding atop tanks, deploying tear gas and rubber bullets. But far-right white activists received a warm welcome from the very same police forces.
Proud Boys, for instance, is a staunchly pro-gun, pro-masculinity group that exalts “Western” culture above all others, advocates violence as the primary means of conflict resolution, and has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. However, last September, Proud Boys marched through downtown Philadelphia in a “Blue Lives Matter'' demonstration. They were flanked by police on bicycles as they stopped to sing at Independence Hall and later posed for photos at City Hall.
There was no militarized police presence — instead, it was Proud Boys who wore helmets, body armor, gas masks and yelled slurs at observers. After the march, law enforcement officials shook hands and chatted with the marchers before they left. For the record, there has been nothing restrained or exemplary about the Philadelphia police’s treatment of racial justice protesters. Instead, Philadelphia police racked up, just in two days, excessive force complaints from 146 racial justice protesters, leading to three separate lawsuits.
Considering this current history, far-right white activists logically saw themselves on the same team as police.
In August, police sent young, armed militiaman Kyle Rittenhouse home, instead of arresting him after eyewitnesses reported that he had just shot three people with an assault rifle at a BLM protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Two of the three victims ultimately died. Police did not arrest Rittenhouse until the following day. Rittenhouse was just one of many fully armed militia members who came to Kenosha to confront BLM activists. As telling as letting Rittenhouse leave the night of the shooting was police’s general response to militiamen at the protests. Videos reveal police officers thanking rifled militiamen — including Rittenhouse — for their presence even as they command BLM activists to clear the street. There are also accounts of police colluding with the militia members to send BLM protesters their way so the armed militia could deal with them.
These are not aberrations. By the end of the summer of 2020, white far-right activists had been observed as an ominous presence in almost 500 BLM protests — self-deputized, with either the implicit or explicit consent of police — as opponents of racial justice protesters. These far-right activists often endangered racial justice protesters, shooting at them, plowing through crowds of them with cars, assaulting and threatening them. Police have enabled this violence by either turning a blind eye or encouraging it. In late June, a police chief in Iowa wrote in a Facebook post directed to BLM counterprotesters, “HIT THE GAS AND HANG ON FOR THE SPEED BUMPS.”
Considering this current history, far-right white activists logically saw themselves on the same team as police. In the last 20 years, ties between law enforcement and white supremacists have been uncovered in over a dozen states. Police officers reportedly were among the mob that broke into the Capitol. White agitators had no reason to fear police. So when the police confronted them at the Capitol, the white Trump loyalists were incredulous and called out these law enforcement officers as “traitors.”