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Police Continue to Protect White Supremacy

January 11, 2021

If this attack on the Capitol showed one thing, it’s that law and order only applies to Black and Brown people.

By Marques Banks, Justice Project Staff Attorney

As the nation watched white supremacists storm the United States Capitol, I thought about how police react in strikingly different ways to white protesters versus Black protesters. I am a lawyer who has supported protests over police murders from Mike Brown to George Floyd. I was in the streets and personally watched as my friends, colleagues, and other protesters were beaten, teargassed, and arrested in massive numbers for exercising their First Amendment rights in response to the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many more. The DC Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and the U.S. Park Police used teargas, flashbangs, and other military-grade weapons with little compassion. When the curfew went into effect on June 1, I witnessed DC police kettle hundreds of protesters. Three hundred and sixteen people were arrested in DC. Capitol and Park Police deployed hundreds of officers to stand guard at federal buildings and monuments to prevent protesters from approaching these buildings’ steps. This number represents nearly half of all the protest arrests in DC from May to January 7.

Nationwide, more than 14,000 people were arrested during protests against the murder of Black men and women in the United States by police. Police teargassed protesters in 100 U.S. cities. They regularly used illegal tactics to separate protesters, inundated them with chemical munitions, and beat them severely.

This response stands in stark comparison to what we saw on January 6. Over the summer, there were no selfies taken. Nobody allowed us to cross police lines. No one was peacefully escorted to a safe place when told to leave. The police never retreated; instead, the police called for reinforcements with no hesitation.

Instead, white protesters took the Capitol last week with ease and achieved their goal of stopping the certification of the U.S. presidential election. While the elected officials barricaded themselves in offices, law enforcement stood back and responded passively to the national security threat – a significantly different response to what we saw this summer as Americans marched for racial equity and justice while proclaiming that Black Lives Matter. The Proud Boy’s actions at the Capitol – and law enforcement’s response – was not just a display of white privilege but white supremacy in action.

It is hard to imagine that a city that has more police per capita than any other city in this country was unable to prevent the Capitol Building from being taken by white supremacists. When the Breonna Taylor and George Floyd protests took place this summer, the FBI, ICE, the National Guard, officers from the Bureau of Prisons, and other federal and local agencies activated to protect Washington, DC. For months, Americans watched as protesters standing up for racial justice were arrested, tear gassed, shot with rubber bullets, beaten, and kidnapped by law enforcement in the name of public safety.

Since the 2020 election, Trump supporters have come to Washington, DC armed and ready for violence. Trump supporters have stabbed Black Lives Matter protesters and, on one occasion, a DC police officer, while Muriel Bowers, Washington, DC’s mayor, continues to tell outraged citizens who call Washington, DC home to disengage. While Black DC residents fear constant harassment from the police in DC, white supremacists feel free to roam the city unencumbered by the fear of law enforcement. By contrast, Trump supporters were allowed to attack law enforcement, cross police lines to enter the Capitol, steal property, vandalize it, and largely leave without even the threat of arrest.

This summer, Mayor Bowers enacted curfews in response to the massive protests of racial injustice. When the curfew was active, MPD moved to immediately detain and arrest those protesting racial injustice, causing groups of protestors to seek refuge in a stranger’s house to escape the militarized response from the police. Yet when Mayor Bowser enacted a 6 p.m. curfew in response to last week’s violence on Capitol Hill, the nation watched as those who had just stormed the Capitol were allowed to roam the streets of the city. The nation saw clearly that law enforcement can and will show great restraint when protecting white supremacy.

If this attack on the Capitol showed one thing, it’s that law and order only applies to Black and Brown people. We can no longer allow law enforcement to be a tool of white supremacy. The insurrection was not a failure of law enforcement but white supremacy in action. Policing is not an institution that can be reformed. It is rotten to its core and must be abolished.