We Know Why Police Went Easy on the Pro-Trump Terrorists
In an America that did not know President Trump, many of our federal government’s bureaucratic mundanities were hidden from view. I’d wager most of us didn’t know about the many forms of vote certification that undergird what this country likes to call a peaceful transfer of power. But the president’s insistence on his own reelection, however false, has raised a broad awareness to that process — and has birthed, for many of his supporters, a deep resentment of it.
Yesterday afternoon, domestic terrorists broke into the U.S. Capitol building by smashing through a first-floor window using a riot shield taken from a Capitol Police officer, a fitting way to start the day’s fellowship between police and rioters. Trump supporters, many of whom chanted things like “back the blue” at this summer’s Movement for Black Lives protests, saw a return on investment: Police escorted a white woman hand in hand down the steps of the Capitol building, took selfies with insurrectionists, and, when the day was over, held the door open for the terrorists as they exited the building.
A List of Everyone Complicit in This Coup Attempt
For months, Trump has lied about the 2020 election and enabled this violence
In those moments, police confirmed what many of us already knew: They are part of a regime built upon and with the express purpose of upholding white supremacy. If you protested in the summer of 2020 or bore witness to activists and organizers doing their good work, you might have heard two questions demanded of officers: “Who do you protect? Who do you serve?” Yesterday, we re-received our answer.
During those summer months, police did not protect protesters; they attacked them. Police ran their cars through crowds of activists in Detroit, kettled and assaulted protesters in New York, and perhaps most famously, tear-gassed D.C. demonstrators outside the White House so the president could take a photo in front of the historic St. John’s Church. These are just a few examples—the ones we’ve seen on camera. Oftentimes over the summer, police attacked protesters in defense of property, like Trump Tower, a federal courthouse in Portland, and expensive stores in Chicago.
The recognition that police exist to protect property is not new. In 1993, Cheryl I. Harris, a critical race theorist and law professor, theorized that policing’s role is to defend property — and that their mandate bleeds over into a protection of whiteness. Harris argues that property is not just about products that can be bought and sold, but a concept that dictates who can do what and whose bodies can move where. “The law has accorded ‘holders’ of whiteness the same privileges and benefits accorded holders of other types of property,” Harris wrote. Those who embody whiteness therefore possess the idea of property and are allowed to act as they wish and destroy what they will because police view their lives and bodies as a protected class.
The police’s job is to enforce the law, yet white supremacists are allowed to sleep in their own beds after taking a joy ride through the Capitol, a duality that seems paradoxical until you remember that white supremacy is the law. After everything that happened yesterday, just over a dozen people were perceived as having broken the law; during last summer’s protests against extrajudicial police killings of Black people, police made more than 14,000 arrests.
The disparities in U.S. policing are well documented, but the events of January 6 — whether you call it an insurrection, a failed coup, or a riot — felt different, in part due to scale and in part because of the lengths to which police went to protect whiteness. Some on Twitter wondered why there weren’t more Capital Police officers present to begin with—after all, D.C. easily and preemptively armored itself against the summer’s Black Lives Matter protesters. But policing and whiteness are devoted bedfellows. Capitol Police didn’t need to prepare against the rioters, because to them, the rioters never posed any threat in the first place.