The Secret Service in 2013 shot and killed a female motorist with a 1-year-old in the backseat after she made a U-turn near the White House.
But when a horde of right-wing insurrectionists stormed into the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to disrupt the certification of the presidential election, there was one fatality and barely any arrests.
You can guess what the difference was: Motorist Miriam Carey was African American.
The vast majority of Wednesday’s rioters were white, angry Trump supporters. Some were bold enough to climb the steps of the Capitol toting Confederate flags and weapons. They broke windows. They put their feet on people’s desks. They fought with police. All the while, their white privilege protected them.
Had they been Black, blood would have flowed down those white steps. Authorities would have tear-gassed dissenters in droves. They would have been shot with rubber bullets before they even made it inside one of the nation’s most important buildings. African Americans would have been rounded up and taken away by the busloads, like they were last summer during Black Lives Matter protests.
It’s nothing new. Law enforcement has always had a tendency to overestimate the level of violence that can be expected when it comes to dealing with African American gatherings and underestimate that of whites.
“Yes, they were overwhelmed but they could have prepared better,” said David Fisher, a retired Philadelphia police officer and president of the National Black Police Association, Greater Philadelphia Chapter. “They didn’t expect those white folks to act like that so they weren’t prepared. They didn’t think in their wildest dreams that those folks were going to go in there and overpower the Capitol,” he said. “But of course, you saw how they prepared for Black Lives Matter because they are scared of Black folks and that’s obvious. I didn’t see any night sticks flying. We barely saw any shields.”
Yes, President Donald Trump deserves the lion’s share of the blame because of his incessant, baseless lies and also for inciting his boneheaded followers. He’s a self-centered demagogue who has done irreparable harm to our democracy. Inauguration Day can’t come soon enough. The American people deserve better than the ugliness he called for and got on Wednesday.
Before then, I didn’t know people could push past Capitol Hill police like that and force their way into a federal building without there being grave consequences.
My one and only run-in with the Capitol Hill Police years ago didn’t end well. I had been driving while Black by the Library of Congress when I got pulled over and questioned. It was an intimidating experience.
But Wednesday, a much-circulated video on social appears to show men with Capitol Hill Police printed on their clothing opening up a gate and allowing mob members to come through. (Whether they were actually members of the force remains unclear.) One cop even posed for a selfie with them.
The people who work at the Capitol deserve better protection than they got. The chief of Capitol Hill Police needs to be fired. The entire force needs to be retrained, because it’s clear that the force let their preconceived biases blind them on a day when America needed them most. Congressman Dwight Evans (D., Phila.) who was locked in his office during the mayhem, told me, “There definitely needs to be an investigation.”
Meanwhile, Miriam Carey’s sister, Valarie, a retired New York Police Department sergeant, said her family is still seeking justice.
“It is incomprehensible how these same officers who were so zealous in pursuing an unarmed woman allowed thugs into the Capitol to desecrate our Capitol. They were trespassing,” Carey said. “You can see what the difference is. It’s white privilege. They felt emboldened by this outgoing administration to think that what they did was OK. They knew that they were not going to be harmed. They knew that their lives were not in danger.”
And for the most part, they were correct.
Jenice Armstrong is a columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer