The images were unfathomable: Frightened lawmakers crouching under desks, then hustled to safety in gas masks as a rabid mob of white insurrectionists shouted and pounded on the doors of the U.S. Capitol.
Many Americans couldn’t believe their eyes, and not just about the assault on our democracy. A question ricocheted around the country: What if the rioters had been Black people?
The pro-Trump horde easily overwhelmed Capitol Police. Dozens of officers were injured in the riot, and one, Brian Sicknick, died from his injuries. Violence also took the life of a rioter who was shot by police as she tried to break into the Speaker’s Lobby.
It’s a tragedy that anyone had to lose their life, and we commend officers who were attacked by the mob for showing restraint that prevented more bloodshed. But we decry the extraordinary failure of law enforcement leadership that allowed the Capitol to be overrun despite abundant social media activity that blared the violent bent of many Trump supporters. Former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund told The Washington Post that House and Senate security officials had denied him permission to request the D.C. National Guard on standby because of the “optics” of declaring an emergency ahead of the pro-Trump protest.
A summer of Black Lives Matter protests led to mass arrests nationwide, but in the immediate hours after the rioters ransacked the Capitol, police had arrested only 14 people. Since then, authorities have reportedly arrested dozens more in connection to the attack, and many more arrests could be forthcoming.
Still, the kid-glove treatment seen in videos and photos of Trump supporters raiding the temple of our democracy rankles Americans who faced far worse while protesting police brutality. In one reprehensible chapter of the Trump presidency, riot officers used batons, chemical spray and flash grenades to beat back peaceful protesters gathered near the White House so that the president could walk across the street for a photo op.
Meanwhile, the Trump mob got to reign in the Capitol for hours. We saw a Confederate flag paraded in the halls of Congress. A horde menacing a Black officer. A man with his feet upon a desk in the office of the Speaker of the House who then bragged about stealing her mail. The ignominious selfies with a cop. The streams of rioters walking out under their own power past a door defaced with the phrase “murder the media.”
Contrast that with the police response in Dallas on the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge on June 1, when officers detained 674 people protesting George Floyd’s death. Similar scenes played out in largely peaceful protests elsewhere. When some protests turned violent, as they did in Minneapolis, Portland and New York, officers met the aggression with riot gear, crowd control munitions and military reinforcements.
But even after an FBI office reportedly warned a day ahead of the Capitol attack that extremists were planning to commit violence, police were left dangerously unprepared. Why?
America has hard questions to answer about the disparate responses. We support a congressional investigation into the security failures and hope every rioter is prosecuted to the full extent of the law. And we must demand that the next time insurgents broadcast plans to attack our institutions, law enforcement responds with the force necessary to repeal and control them.