Myth of ‘peaceful Black Lives Matter protests’ and the Capitol coup

Photo: Claudio Schwarz @purzlbaum on Unsplash

Police killed one person out of hundreds in an attempted coup at the Capitol over the course of a day. Police on BLM duty last year killed one person in demonstrations attended by 15 million to 26 million people over the course of months.

By now it’s a consensus in liberal America: the police’s pathetic response to the virtually all-white mob that invaded the Capitol, compared to the brutality the cops showed demonstrators at the overwhelmingly peaceful Black Lives Matter protests last year, was a stark reminder of the endemic white supremacism in American policing. And this, the consensus continues, just reflects the white supremacism, the systemic racism, in America as a whole.

The New York Times and Washington Post have been running news stories and op-eds on this theme, Stephen Colbert is chuckling about it with Chris Rock. Even Joe Biden said: “You can’t tell me that if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protesters yesterday they wouldn’t have been treated very differently than the mob of thugs that stormed the Capitol.”

Biden may have a point: There is a streak of racism in American policing. (There used to be a lot more than a streak, but now big-city police forces have masses of black officers, from chief on down.) Some American cops, white and black, are apt to stereotype black people in a given situation as violent and act accordingly.

But the liberal consensus on the Capitol invasion goes way beyond that. It says the cops treated the white marauders with kid gloves because they’re white, and brutalized the BLM protesters because they were black.

“These people broke into the Capitol and were sitting on the House speaker’s desk today. Black people would not have even gotten into the building. They would have started shooting at them the minute they started to rush at the police.” said BLM activist Deray Mckesson to the Washington Post.

In The Atlantic, Kellie Carter Jackson, an assistant professor of Africana studies at Wellesley, wrote an essay titled “The inaction of Capitol police was by design.” Contrasting police behavior at the Capitol with that at the BLM protests, she wrote: “The difference in the Capitol Police’s response shocked many who bemoaned the double standard. But police brutality against Black Americans and police inaction toward white Americans is not some surprising anomaly; it is the status quo.”

This is ridiculous. This is just plain false.

These “white supremacist” cops at the Capitol shot and killed, from close range, a white Air Force veteran, Ashli Babbitt, when she and a bunch of her fellow insurrectionists were about to break through a barricaded door. Another one of the white cops who were supposedly winking at the rioters, Brian Sicknick, was beaten to death with a fire extinguisher. There is plenty of footage of Capitol police trying desperately to fight off the surging mob with water hoses, chemical spray, fists and batons.

And while the Capitol police were obviously, hopelessly undermanned and unprepared, it wasn’t by “design”: Their chief, Steven Sund, who has since resigned, pleaded with his Congressional higher-ups, both before the riot and after it started, to send in the National Guard, but to no effect. Bad “optics,” they told him before the riot, and once things started to get out of hand, the bureaucrats were too timid to make the call, until it was too late.

This was not white supremacy, this was not design. This was a huge, unintentional, greatly lamented failure.

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But that’s just one half of the distortion of reality in the now-accepted claim that the police response at the Capitol was a grand display of white racism. The other half — that police across America brutalized demonstrators at almost completely peaceful Black Lives Matter protests because those demonstrators were black — is a worse distortion.

Yet in this second half, too, there is an element of truth. There’s tons of footage showing cops beating, manhandling and trampling protesters who were not acting violently. But to say that the BLM protests were “peaceful” or “overwhelmingly peaceful,” and that the cops were brutal because of the protesters’ color, is such bullshit.

For one thing, most of the Black Lives Matter protesters were white,  according to studies of some of the biggest of the early demonstrations.

Maybe that’s not well-known; I didn’t know it until I started researching this article. But what is very, very well-known, and what is being dropped down the memory hole, is that alongside all those peaceful BLM mass protests were much more sparsely attended but extremely violent, ongoing riots where the police were a no-show. 

It didn’t happen that long ago. It started seven months ago and went on across the country for weeks, and in Portland, Seattle and Minneapolis — the last being where it all started on May 25 with the mind-shattering police killing of George Floyd — it went on for months.

Do people really not remember the scenes of streets of boarded-up downtown storefronts, of mobs of looters breaking store windows and running wild up the aisles, of buildings on fire, of police cars on fire, of protesters menacing drivers who strayed into their path — and there not being a cop in sight?

Four days after George Floyd was killed, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who is black and who was anguished, frustrated and angry over both Floyd’s murder and the response to it, said at a news conference: “This is not a protest. This is not in the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. This is chaos…. When you burn down this city, you’re burning down our community…. You’re drawing knives at our police officers, you are burning cars…. We’re no longer talking about the murder of an innocent man. We’re talking about how you’re burning police cars on the streets of Atlanta, Georgia. Go home!”

By that time policemen had been shot and wounded during protests in St. Louis and Las Vegas, and hit by cars during protests in Buffalo and New York City. In Minneapolis, Mayor Jacob Frey (whom Trump called a “very weak Radical Left Mayor”) said, “What started as largely peaceful protests for George Floyd have turned to outright looting and domestic terrorism in our region.” .

The estimate of insured property damage from the riots overall is $1 billion to $2 billion. But that’s just the insured damage. In Seattle, the merchants whose businesses got torched or otherwise wrecked say their uninsured damage came to $200 million. That’s just in Seattle.

Yes, the overwhelming number of BLM demonstrations were peaceful; studies say about 95%. The 95% of peaceful protests seem to have taken place mainly in the daytime, with the 5% violent ones coming mainly at night. But if 95 out of 100 demonstrations featured people marching and chanting “black lives matter,” while five out of 100 featured people burning cars and buildings, looting and occasionally assaulting or, on rare occasions, killing people while also chanting “black lives matter,” does that add up to an “overwhelmingly peaceful” protest?

No, it doesn’t. The 9,000-plus individual Black Lives Matter protests were attended by an estimated total of 15 million to 26 million people. Taken together, it was on one hand the largest peaceful protest in American history, and on the other hand, it was American history’s biggest, longest, most destructive riot.

The liberal consensus on police racism (I’m a liberal too, so I don’t use the word as a pejorative, only because it’s the most accurate label) makes much of the selfies that some Capitol police took with members of the mob – as if that proves the Capitol police identified with these people and saw them as comrades, not criminals.

The cops took a few selfies? Here’s the Washington Post, June 1, 2020: “From New York to Des Moines to Spokane, Wash., members of law enforcement – sometimes clad in riot gear – knelt alongside protesters and marched in solidarity with them.” A selfie, a knee, what does it mean? A big zip.

Embed from Getty Images

Embed from Getty Images

Then there’s the viral side-by-side photos of Trump’s mob streaming up the steps of the Capitol past the hapless police, alongside the photo of a phalanx of National Guardsmen, looking like alien centurions, lining the steps of what looks like the Capitol and facing a peaceful BLM demonstration. This is meant to illustrate the difference between how police gear up for black protesters and how they gear up for white ones.

The National Guardsmen weren’t on the steps of the Capitol for the BLM protest in that photo, but on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial – yet that’s not the biggest problem with this picture. The biggest problem is that the photo from the unprotected Capitol last week was taken right after the attempted coup began – while the June 2, 2020 photo of the National Guardmen on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial was taken after Washington D.C., like so many other cities across the country, had already endured several days of violence and rioting.

On the day the National Guardsmen mounted the Lincoln Memorial steps for the BLM protest, Washington – again, like so many other American cities at the time – was in the middle of a curfew. Washington Post, June 3, 2020: “The District’s curfew is in response to the demonstrations over the weekend that devolved into looting and destruction of property around downtown and in other parts of the city.”

Outside the White House, Secret Service agents had been hit with bottles of liquor and urine; their injuries included broken bones. Police cars had been damaged. A fire had been set inside St. John’s Episcopal Church. Dozens of businesses in the city had been looted. The base of the Lincoln Memorial had been defaced with graffiti. Then, on Tuesday, June 2, eight days after George Floyd was killed, National Guardsmen took their positions on the Lincoln Memorial steps and thousands of BLM demonstrators held an indeed peaceful protest.

So the photos don’t show the difference in how Washington prepares for white protesters and black protesters. They show the difference between how Washington failed to prepare for sudden (if predictable) violence by white protesters in 2021, and how it prepared for a continuation of violence after days of it by both black and white protesters seven months before.

And finally, the idea that the police went trigger-happy during the BLM protests is a million miles from the truth. The well-respected Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project, working with Princeton researchers, found that a total of nine people, including demonstrators, police and bystanders, were killed during the BLM protests.

Of those nine, the number killed by police, according to ACLED, was one: Jorge Gomez, shot to death by police in Las Vegas when he pointed a gun at them.

Police killed one person out of hundreds in an attempted coup at the Capitol over the course of a day. Police on BLM duty last year killed one person in demonstrations attended by 15 million to 26 million people over the course of months. If the cops had been as kill-crazy as so many people seem to believe, they would have killed thousands. Instead they killed one “protester,” and he was pointing a gun at them.

So the liberal consensus on American police racism, supposedly seen in stark relief at the Capitol and the Black Lives Matter demonstrations, is nuts. It’s also slanderous to American police, and slanderous to America, period. Yes, there’s racism on US police forces, and yes there’s racism in America, but nothing anywhere near what liberals and progressives, black activists and their white “allies” believe. The “systemic racism” they speak of existed in America decades ago, but no more. Like I said, there is still a streak of racism among urban American police, but not like it used to be, not when there are untold numbers of black police officers at every level on every force.

So, fellow liberals, just because the New York Times, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Chris Rock and even Stephen Colbert say it’s so, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s so.

CLICK HERE to get my new memoir, “Playing Till We Have to Go – A Jewish childhood in inner-city L.A.” At Amazon – $2.99 on Kindle, $8.99 in paperback. 

References 

New Report Reveals Demographics of Black Lives Matter Protesters Shows Vast Majority Are White, Marched Within Their Own Cities – PRNewswire, June 18, 2020

One Big Difference About George Floyd Protests: Many White Faces – New York Times, June 12  

Outgoing Capitol Police chief: House, Senate security officials hamstrung efforts to call in National Guard – Washington Post, Jan. 11, 2021 

Biden denounces racial inequities in blasting Capitol riot – Washington Post, Jan. 8, 2021

Pro-Trump mob clash with police as they breached the barricades – YouTube (The Sun), Jan. 7, 2021

Kid-glove treatment of pro-Trump mob contrasts with strong-arm police tactics against Black Lives Matter, activists say – Washington Post, Jan. 7, 2021

Some officers march and kneel with protesters, creating dissonant images on fraught weekend of uprisings – Washington Post, June 1, 2020

George Floyd Protests: A Timeline – New York Times, June 6, 2020

Fire set at historic St. John’s church during protests of George Floyd’s death – Washington Post. June 1, 2020

D.C. curfew order extended to Wednesday night to 11 p.m. Here’s what you need to know – Washington Post, June 3, 2020

Atlanta mayor tells protesters: Go home! – YouTube, May 30, 2020

Abolish the Police? Those Who Survived the Chaos in Seattle Aren’t So Sure – New York Times, Aug. 7, 2020

Exclusive: $1 billion-plus riot damage is most expensive in insurance history – Axios, Sept. 16, 2020

George Floyd protests – Wikipedia

George Floyd protests: A Timeline – New York Times, June 2, 2020

At least 25 Americans were killed during protests and political unrest in 2020 – Guardian, Oct. 31, 2020

The Inaction of Capitol Police Was by Design, by Kellie Carter Jackson – The Atlantic, Jan. 8, 2021

George Floyd protests in Washington, D.C. – Wikipedia

Fact check: Viral images compare handling of Black Lives Matter protests and Capitol riot – USA Today, Feb. 8, 2021

Chris Rock Isn’t Surprised That The Capitol Terrorists Were Treated Differently Than BLM Protesters – The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, YouTube, Jan. 12, 2021

About the Author
Larry Derfner is the author of the memoir "Playing Till We Have to Go -- A Jewish childhood in inner-city L.A.," published November 2020. His first memoir was "No Country for Jewish Liberals" (2017). He is also lead singer for The NightCallers, a '60s-'70s rock 'n' soul cover band, and a copy editor and contributor at Haaretz. Previously he was a columnist and feature writer at The Jerusalem Post. He also blogs at larryderfner.com
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