Look no further than law enforcement preparations in Kenosha last week or BLM protests.
When a riot incited by President Donald Trump breached the United States Capitol last Wednesday, Tanya McLean couldn’t help but notice the relative ease with which the crowd overpowered the Capitol Police.
Even more shocking, just 69 people were arrested immediately following the insurrection and only 40 more had been charged a day later, the Washington Post reported, despite hundreds, if not thousands, of people who breached the building. Many were quick to point out the obvious discrepancies between how police handled the mostly white insurrectionists, whose rampage left five dead, and last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests.
And McLean, executive director of Leaders of Kenosha, a local activist group, has firsthand experience of the differences.
“We all know that had those been Black or brown people, instead of 40 people being arrested there would have been 400 people probably shot dead,” said McLean, who has been heavily involved in local organizing since the Jacob Blake shooting last August. “It was just ridiculous.”
McLean said she was pepper-sprayed and tear-gassed during initial protests over the Blake shooting, in which a white police officer shot Blake, a Black man, seven times in the back at point-blank range. The first nights in Kenosha turned violent as rioters burned down buildings and a self-described militia member shot three protesters, killing two.
Last week, the day before the Kenosha County district attorney announced he wouldn’t criminally charge Rusten Sheskey, the officer who shot Blake, local authorities proactively fenced off municipal buildings, boarded up windows, and blocked main roads downtown; Gov Tony. Evers sent 500 National Guard troops to the city. Demonstrations after the charging decision were relatively small and completely peaceful.
In contrast, the Capitol riot was a result of stunning failures by multiple government agencies who did not prepare for the possibility of a violent insurrection, despite ample warnings in far-right circles online. On Tuesday, the Washington Post reported on an internal FBI memo in which the intelligence agency wrote it was aware of right-wing extremists explicitly calling for violence and “war.”
“The treatment of Black Lives Matter protesters is completely the opposite when they’re peaceful, compared to these white right-wing extremists,” said Robert Kraig, executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin.
More chilling revelations have surfaced in the days following the riot, including the possibility that domestic terrorists intended to take members of Congress hostage, or even follow through on their chants to kill members of Congress and Vice President Mike Pence, given the chance.
And yet the extremists faced mostly chest-high fences and, in at least one instance, police opened the Capitol doors for them.
“We are not awarded that same grace,” said Angela Lang, executive director of Black Leaders Organizing for Communities. “We are not afforded that same benefit of the doubt, and we always are seen as the threats, whether we’re literally walking away from you, whether we’re sleeping.”
President-elect Joe Biden also took notice of the disparities in treatment of Black Lives Matter protesters and that of Trump’s violent supporters.
“No one can tell me that if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter [supporters] protesting yesterday, they wouldn’t have been treated very, very differently than the mob of thugs that stormed the Capitol,” Biden said in a post-riot address. “We all know that’s true, and it is unacceptable. Totally unacceptable.”
Despite the expanse of differences between the two types of events, defenders of the rioters and President Trump have been quick to claim a false equivalency between protesting police violence and a violent attempt to overthrow a presidential election.
In June, US Rep. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) called on Gov. Tony Evers to resign after protesters tore down two statues. Tiffany has made no such call for Trump’s resignation, although the representative compared the Capitol riot to events in Minneapolis, Madison, and Kenosha.
The rioters were fueled by disinformation from Trump that the election had been stolen in a grand conspiracy. Tiffany contributed to that disinformation last week with another untruthful claim that the conservative-led Wisconsin Supreme Court was allowing “hundreds of thousands of illegal votes to be cast and counted.”
The 7th District congressman also voted last week against counting the certified votes of Arizona and Pennsylvania electors. He earlier signaled his support for a lawsuit brought in Texas that sought to overturn Wisconsin’s presidential election entirely.