Investigations into how pro-Trump rioters invaded the Capitol building must take into account US history, experts say, and whether a double racial standard has been built into the forces, including the police from the Capitol.
Footage from the storming of the Capitol on January 6 showed the crowds quickly passed the building’s dedicated police agency and were left to roam the complex, vandalizing lawmakers’ offices and forcing Congress to take cover in a safe place.
Questions about why Capitol Police did not call for reinforcements earlier or use more force against the crowd led to the resignation of Steven Sund, the Capitol Police Chief. But some law enforcement experts say chess investigations must address fundamental flaws in the U.S. approach to law enforcement.
Many, including President-elect Joe Biden, have noted a contrast between the treatment of rioters and the aggressive policing of Black Lives Matter protesters Last year.
“It was obviously an extremely bloated police force,” said Ayesha Bell Hardaway, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University who is also part of a Cleveland Police Oversight Team as part of an agreement with the US Department of Justice.
“They have a budget that rivals most big cities and a force of 2,000 police officers – that’s more than the city of Cleveland – for a very small area.”
So why have they lost control of the situation? “We need to start telling the truth about what the police were originally tasked with doing and whether we really want the double standard removed,” Ms. Hardaway said.
Many police departments in the southern United States originate from groups of citizens formed to capture runaway slaves. Efforts, including the Kerner Commission set up by President Lyndon Johnson to study the riots of the 1960s, helped crack down on overt racial discrimination. Americans were outraged by the image of a Birmingham policeman fixing an attack dog on a black teenager during the civil rights movement, said Christian Davenport, a professor at the University of Michigan.
This work had some success in moderating the differences between law enforcement responses to black and white protest groups in the decades that followed, Davenport said. But the behavior of the police during the recent protests suggests that progress has been reversed, he added.
It was clear that the Capitol crowd posed a greater threat than any of the Black Lives Matter protesters, Davenport added.
He said: “If the momentum to respond to threats is there, it should have sparked more policing, as they potentially demanded the overthrow of part of the democratic process and perhaps physically injured some leaders, as opposed to Black Lives Matter demanding greater responsibility but playing within the structures of the politico-legal system. “
While most of the officers fought to restrain the crowds and protect lawmakers, others appeared to be friendly with the rioters, putting on their Trump hats and posing for photos. Two officers have been suspended and 10 others are under investigation. Thirteen other off-duty police officers from across the country are suspected of participating in the riot.
“What I saw was a white crowd being treated in a way they are used to being treated on a daily basis,” Ms. Hardaway said. “It makes me wonder why this can’t happen for black people?”
Mr Davenport said it was naive to believe that police officers were free from the beliefs and prejudices of their communities: “We forget that before they are officers they are family, friends and family. neighbors and they are immersed in society and then invited to stand above it. and rule and act accordingly. “
Capitol Police officials did not respond to a request for comment.
Following this summer’s racial justice protests, a range of solutions have been proposed to tackle prejudice in the country’s police force. These range from dissolving existing forces and replacing them with community-based organizations focused on social services, to greater accountability measures after the use of force. One place to start would be to reduce the discretion that commanders have in deciding what constitutes a threat and what not, Davenport said.
“Why does a person decide when the police need help?” he said.
The Capitol Police have their own history of alleged discrimination to contend with. A group of more than 250 black officers have filed an open lawsuit against the department since 2001, claiming in court documents that an officer found a noose in his locker and that black officers and white officers who bonded with them were regularly subjected to racist insults. .
Another black policewoman filed an additional discrimination complaint in 2016.
Activists also pointed out that only 29% of Capitol Hill police officers are black. For comparison, the neighboring Washington Metropolitan Police said its workforce was 52% black in 2018. Washington DC’s population is 46% black.
“You have to understand that when you have a bad example after a bad example after a bad example, you have a role model,” Ms. Hardaway said. “It is the result of the mission and culture of law enforcement.”
Brian Dunn, a Los Angeles-based civil rights attorney specializing in police misconduct, was not surprised to see rioters storming Capitol Police. “All of these things crystallized on January 6,” Mr. Dunn said. “You have to understand that it’s as American as baseball and apple pie.”