On Wednesday, January 6, thousands of pro-Trump supporters breached the U.S Capitol, where Congress sits to deliberate and pass laws, breaking windows and wreaking havoc. Social media activists immediately drew comparisons between the police response on Wednesday and that of last year’s Black Lives Matter protests.
Over the summer, protests spread nationwide after the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck. According to the Amnesty website, people who were simply exercising their right to protest peacefully were met with such violence that they lost eyesight, survived brutal beatings, and suffered seizures and severe wounds. Law enforcement repeatedly used physical force, batons, rubber bullets, and chemical irritants. While some Black Lives Matter demonstrations had violence, the large majority were overwhelmingly peaceful; 93% of the protests since the death of George Floyd have been nonviolent.
Here is a look at one of the many nondestructive protests from last summer, compared to Wednesday:
On June 2, 2020, dozens of camouflage-clad National Guard troops were deployed to the Lincoln Memorial during protests held in Washington, DC. Photos and videos on social media showed peaceful protesters standing before the memorial. The crowd used megaphones to speak up about the injustices Black people face, such as voter suppression and unlawful incarceration. This peaceful gathering was met with more security than the violent white rioters who broke into the Capitol.
On Wednesday, masses of pro-Trump supporters were able to enter one of the country’s most historically and politically significant buildings while the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory was taking place. The world watched on television as crowds of rioters filled the steps of the Capitol, made
it into the building, and roamed free inside, looting and vandalizing symbols of American democracy. The Capitol Police guarding the building did not make early requests for help from the city’s main police force or the National Guard. As a result, the few police lines around the perimeter were quickly overwhelmed. Dozens of officers were injured, and policeman Brian D. Sicknick later died, in efforts to re-establish control. Rioters had already made it inside the building before Washington’s National Guard was activated. Pro-Trump supporters pushed past metal fences and walked throughout the complex for several hours.
Hours into Wednesday’s violence, protesters were filmed being escorted or guided out of the building without arrest. Guards appeared to be helping rioters down the Capitol steps and opening doors for them to exit. A security guard even posed for a picture with a rioter. One protester was pictured, his face uncovered, with his feet up on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk. He proceeded to show off a letter he stole from her office. A confederate flag was paraded by another unmasked man and well-known conspiracy theorist. Nick Ochs, a known member of the Proud Boys, tweeted a selfie of himself inside and later told CNN: “There were thousands of people in there – [the police] had no control of the situation. I didn’t get stopped or questioned.” Supporters of the BLM and others on the left have voiced their outrage after witnessing the double standard of policing during the event.
The Black Lives Matter Global Network said it was “one more example of the hypocrisy in our country’s law enforcement response to protest….[W]hen Black people protest for our lives, we are all too often met by National Guard troops or police equipped with assault rifles, shields, tear gas and battle helmets… make no mistake, if the protesters were Black, we would have been tear gassed, battered, and perhaps shot.”
On Wednesday, we witnessed a shocking display of violence that shook the core of American democracy. I learned that social media plays a huge role in politics and offers citizens an opportunity to share their opinions freely. Social media activists instantly highlighted that BLM protesters were treated with much more security than rioters on Wednesday. During our CGL discussion on December 7th, Nadine Strossen, an American civil liberties lawyer and activist, encouraged the SLS community to take advantage of social media and put it to good use. Here at St. Luke’s students can continue to post on their social media about the evident difference between the white rioters’ police treatment and BLM protesters’ treatment. Not only did the Capitol riot highlight the importance of social media, but also the significance of factual and unbiased news sources. Fox News has been telling its viewers that the presidential election was stolen from the American people. This lie convinced pro-Trump supporters that they had the right to violate one of America’s most sacred institutions. Fox is not the only media outlet encouraging the lies, making it essential that we learn how to distinguish fake news from real news. Wednesday will go down as one of the worst days for democracy in our lifetime, but as we reflect on this event, we always remind ourselves of the importance of social media and unbiased news sources.