As the stunning events unfolded on Wednesday evening, commentators drew comparisons between the police response to the insurrection and the brutal attacks on Black Lives Matter protesters last summer.
The Capitol – home to the Senate, Houses of Representatives and the Supreme Court – came under siege by a mob of hundreds, who briefly forced legislators to take cover as they tried to stop president-elect Joe Biden replacing Donald Trump in the White House.
The nation’s elected representatives scrambled to crouch under desks and don gas masks while police tried to barricade the building. They were among the most astonishing scenes ever to unfold in a seat of American political power.
The riots came after Trump’s presidency emboldened white supremacists such as The Proud Boys – a violent neo-fascist, Trump-supporting street gang.
Mutale Nkonde, author of upcoming book Automated Anti Blackness, pointed out the stark difference in policing approach to the Capitol coup versus the response to George Floyd’s killing.
Nkonde, who has previously served as an artificial intelligence policy adviser for US Congress, told HuffPost UK: “The Capitol police showed respect and restraint for violent anti-democratic protestors and, on the other hand, showed violent resistance to peaceful Black Lives Matter protests. This is an example of a culture of anti-Black racism in policing.
“White women were complicit in this, yet their involvement has been downplayed not just by the Proud Boys but the president, who has not issued statements of regrets. [Meanwhile] Breonna Taylor was blamed for her own death by police.
On Wednesday, a judge banned a Proud Boys leader – the only one of colour –from Washington after he was accused of vandalising a Black Lives Matter banner at a historic Black church, and found with high-capacity firearm magazines when he was arrested.
The order bans Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, 36, from entering the District of Columbia, with very limited exceptions to meet with his attorney or appear in court.
Nkonde said this isolated approach to a singular Proud Boy of colour is telling.
“The significant thing about him is Enriche is runs a group called Latinos for Trump and would be racialised as Black in the American context, whether he identifies as such. While one could argue he was arrested because of a specific charge, he was the only Proud Boy who banned from the city before the protest before the January 6 coup, which set the stage for the differential police response to Black and white protesters since the death of George Floyd.”
She added: “The US police forces across the country are petri-dishes for white supremacy and they need to be defunded. We need to identify their key functions and rebuild public safety units that serve and protect all Americans.”
Some 52 arrests were made during Wednesday’s riots at the Capitol. Four people died – three from medical emergencies and one, a white woman, was shot dead.
Washington’s mayor Muriel Bowser instituted an evening curfew in an attempt to contain the violence.
In a late night news conference, metropolitan police department chief Robert J Contee said 47 of the 52 arrests were related to violations of Bowser’s 6pm curfew, with 26 involving people arrested on Capitol grounds.
Several others were arrested on charges related to carrying unlicensed or prohibited firearms. In addition, Contee said, two pipe bombs were recovered from the headquarters of the Republican and Democratic national committees, as well as a cooler from a vehicle on US Capitol grounds that contained Molotov cocktails.
The rioters were egged on by Trump, who has spent weeks falsely attacking the integrity of the election and had urged his supporters to come to Washington to protest Congress’ formal approval of Biden’s victory.
The protests interrupted those proceedings for nearly seven hours.
While the number of people arrested is expected to grow, the initial number pales in comparison to the amount of Black Lives Matter protesters arrested following the police killing of Floyd on May 25, 2020.
The world looked on as US police forces deployed the use of pepper spray, rubber bullets, teargas and batons on protesters – which included both members of the media and participants. Several cities also implemented curfews in a bid to curb unrest.
On June 1 alone, more than five times the number of people were arrested than on the day the Capitol was stormed, with 289 people detained.
Derrick Johnson, president of the national NAACP, said: “When Black folks are protesting and progressives are protesting peacefully they were tear-gassed, they were arrested, they were shot with rubber bullets. They were shot with real bullets. We watched it take place all summer long when people were peacefully demonstrating.”
By contrast, one officer could be seen posing for a selfie with one of the pro-Trump rioters.
In snap polling conducted on January 6, as the events in the US Capitol unfolded, Ipsos found a large majority of Americans opposed the protesters who broke into the building, while half saw it as an attempted coup.
More than two-thirds (70%) opposed the protests, with just under one in five (19%) supporting them. A similar number (74%) said the protesters who broke into the Capitol should be arrested.
Trump initially tweeted to ask his supporters to “remain peaceful” before posting a video asking them to “go home”.
But he also used the video to claim – baselessly – that the election was “fraudulent” and that he felt supporters’ “pain”. “We love you. You’re very special,” he added.
Politicians are vowing an investigation into how police handled Wednesday’s violent breach at the Capitol, questioning whether a lack of preparedness allowed the mob to occupy and vandalise the building.
Democratic representative Val Demings, a former police chief, said it was “painfully obvious” that Capitol police “were not prepared for the event.
“I certainly thought that we would have had a stronger show of force, that there would have been steps taken in the very beginning to make sure that there was a designated area for the protesters in a safe distance from the Capitol.”
“Had it been people who look like me – had it been the same amount of people, but had they been Black and brown – we wouldn’t have made it up those steps,” Congresswoman Cori Bush, representative of Missouri, told MSNBC.
“We wouldn’t have made it to be able to get into the door and bust windows, go put our feet up on desks of Congress members. We would’ve been shot, tear-gassed, rubber bullets. [...] That would’ve happened before we made it there.
″We need to call it what it is: it’s white supremacy, it was white privilege and it was the call of our president.”
Representative Marcia Fudge, a Democrat from Ohio, said it was “no question [that] there is a double standard” between how police treated Black Lives Matters protesters last summer and the pro-Trump supporters this week.
Dr Aaron Winter, senior lecturer in criminology at the University of East London, is an expert on the American far right, white supremacy and terrorism.
He pointed out there was a “major difference” in the police and wider state security responses to the storming of the Capitol by white far-right Trump supporters and the Black Lived Matter protests earlier in 2020.
“I believe that racism, as well as politics, play a significant role. What was so shocking about the events at the Capitol was not just the protests themselves, which were widely known and warned about, but the ease to which they stormed the normally highly securitised Capitol building,” he told HuffPost UK.
“These scenes stand in marked contrast with the heavy police and security presence at BLM protests, and harsh treatment and suppression of protestors. The wider political dimension became clear when Trump spoke out against BLM and issued threats against protestors. The links between the two cases in this respect are unsettling.”
He added: “The relationship between the far right, state and mainstream needs to be challenged and dismantled. The Capitol siege may be an indication that with Trump’s loss, the links are being severed, and this was a mobilisation against that – but that remains to be seen and still leaves the systemic and institutional racism in policing, the criminal justice system and wider society to be dealt with.”
Without drawing the same comparison, political figures outside the US have condemned the riots.
UK home secretary Priti Patel blamed Trump’s incendiary comments for directly provoking violence from a mob loyal to the president.
Patel urged the Republican to condemn their actions and said the statement in which he said “we love you” to the rioters and repeated his unevidenced claims of electoral fraud did “very little to de-escalate the situation”.
Prime minister Boris Johnson called for a “peaceful and orderly transfer of power” between Trump and Biden.