President-elect Joseph R. Biden and other Democrats were quick to resurrect the police-racism narrative after the U.S. Capitol riot, drawing a swift rebuke from the right led by prominent Black conservatives.
A day after Wednesday’s siege by a largely white crowd of pro-Trump demonstrators, Mr. Biden all but accused the U.S. Capitol Police of racism, saying that Black Lives Matters protesters would have been treated “very, very differently from the mob of thugs that stormed the Capitol. We all know that’s true, and it’s unacceptable.”
Conservative radio talk-show host Larry Elder agreed that a double standard was at play, although not the one that Mr. Biden suggested.
“You want to play this game about what would have happened had the protesters had been Black? The likelihood is they would have pulled back even more, and the building would have been trashed more,” Mr. Elder said Friday on a podcast.
He cited studies, including three from Washington State University, showing that police are actually less likely to use force against Black suspects, a reverse-racism finding that has been attributed to fears about legal, social and media backlash.
“What happened was horrific enough without somehow playing a thought experiment of what would have happened if the protesters had been mostly Black,” Mr. Elder said.
Peter Kirsanow, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, said that no such speculation is necessary, given the lessons from last year’s Black Lives Matter unrest, which saw major U.S. cities beset for months by burning, looting and rioting among protests that typically began peacefully before erupting into violence.
“We don’t need to speculate about how they’d be treated,” Mr. Kirsanow said in an email. “We saw months of rioting, arson, and looting over the summer. Dozens of people killed, billions in property damage, entire neighborhoods wrecked, police stations and other government buildings taken over. Yet in multiple jurisdictions cops were ordered to stand down.”
In Minneapolis, for example, police were ordered by the city to abandon a precinct station, allowing it to be torched by rioters, while in Seattle, protesters were permitted to take over for weeks a six-block “autonomous zone” and declare it off limits to law enforcement.
Derrick Wilburn, head of Rocky Mountain Black Conservatives, accused Democrats of reflexively playing the race card with “entirely unnecessary comments impugning the Washington, D.C., police,” adding that “when you’re seeking racism constantly, you’re constantly finding racism, even where none exists.”
Charges of racially biased disparate treatment erupted within hours of the Capitol rioting, spurred by video showing protesters walking through the Rotunda unimpeded and a clip of a rioter sidling up next to an officer and taking a selfie.
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris said that “we witnessed two systems of justice when we saw one that let extremists storm the United States Capitol, and another that released tear gas on peaceful protesters last summer.”
In fact, police did deploy tear gas in the Senate chambers and outside the Capitol building, where they also used percussion grenades to disperse pro-Trump rioters toward the end of the four-hour siege, The Associated Press reported.
CNN columnist Roxanne Jones said Thursday in a op-ed that “[t]his is what it looks like when toxic White privilege is left unchecked and consistently encouraged by our nation’s leaders,” while NBA star LeBron James cited a June 1 photo of an officer pointing a rubber-bullet gun at or near a Black man with a toddler on his shoulders amid looting in Long Beach, California.
“We’ve all seen that photo. On the contrary, you got this White guy walking inside the Capitol with his thumb up in the air holding a podium in his hand,” the Los Angeles Lakers All-Star told reporters on Thursday. “What more do I need to say to my kids than to see the two differences?”
‘Shackled, arrested or dead’
Clearly police were outnumbered and overwhelmed by the mob that stormed the Capitol after thousands marched from the Save America rally on the Ellipse. Much of the video shows officers struggling to stop rioters from entering and fighting off attacks from the mob.
MSNBC host Joy Reid said Wednesday in a viral monologue that “I guarantee you if that was a Black Lives Matter protest in D.C., there would already be people shackled, arrested or dead,” while Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said Thursday that if the rioters were Black, “they would have been shot.”
“When White people came into the Capitol, broke into the Capitol and defiled public spaces, they didn’t arrest them,” Ms. Gillibrand, New York Democrat, said on Fox News. “It was as if they were on a Capitol tour. It was not done in the way that was appropriate.”
Rep. Tim Ryan, Ohio Democrat, said Monday that two Capitol Police were suspended: the officer in the selfie and a second officer who allegedly wore a red “Make America Great Again” hat.
Others made the point that the four-hour siege was hardly casualty-free. One woman, 35-year-old Ashli Babbitt, was shot and killed by an officer, while Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, 42, died later at the hospital of injuries sustained in the riot. Three other rioters died of medical emergencies, and about 50 officers were injured.
“One of the Trump rioters was killed by the Capitol Police. That fact has been excised from the left-wing narrative of police coddling, as if it never happened,” Manhattan Institute fellow Heather Mac Donald said in an email. “No BLM rioter was killed by cops. It is astonishing that the Capitol Police response is judged as overly pacific, given that loss of life.”
At least 40 people have been charged with riot-related offenses in D.C. Superior Court and another 15 charged with federal crimes, according to the Justice Department, which is continuing to pursue suspects and make arrests.
Countless thousands of arrests were made during six months of BLM protests, which included more than 100 straight days of rioting in Portland, Oregon. Estimates show nearly 30 were killed in rioting-related violence.
Not all of those arrests resulted in charges. In St. Louis, prosecutors declined to file criminal charges against 36 suspects arrested in violent protests May 30-June 2, according to KSDK-TV, while in Portland, about 90% of 213 rioters charged in September had their cases dismissed by prosecutors, according to KOIN-TV.
Ms. Harris was accused of enabling protesters in June by encouraging contributions to the Minnesota Freedom Fund to “help post bail for those protesting on the ground,” while 13 Biden campaign staffers reportedly donated to the fund.
Mr. Biden referred to a June 2 photo of the D.C. National Guard lining up to protect the Lincoln Memorial in June, a Getty Images shot taken after protests that saw more than a dozen monuments and memorials defaced.
“No one can tell me that if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protesting yesterday, they wouldn’t have been treated very, very differently from the mob of thugs that stormed the Capitol. We all know that’s true, and it’s unacceptable. Totally unacceptable,” Mr. Biden said. “The American people saw it in plain view.”
Ms. Mac Donald, author of “The War on Cops,” pointed to the widespread criticism against local agencies last year for “overpreparing for civil violence and for using militaristic equipment.”
“It is not surprising that the DC police and the Capitol Police did not show up in tanks and riot gear,” she said. “Officers today are reluctant to use force to subdue a resisting suspect for fear of how it will look on a cell phone video.”
Turning Point USA contributor Rob Smith said that the racism charge smacks of “rank opportunism,” adding that he had trouble taking seriously comments from those who failed to “forcefully condemn the riots and the cities burning last summer.”
“[T]he left always goes to race, and I think when you’re dealing with something as charged as race, when you’re dealing with something as charged as police brutality against African Americans, it shouldn’t be used to score cheap political points, which is exactly what President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris are doing,” Mr. Smith said on Fox News.
He predicted that “this is something that we’re going to seeing a lot more from this presidency.”
• Jeff Mordock contributed to this report.