What if the rioters who breached the US Capitol were Black?

Columnist Solomon Jones examines the events in Washington that left four people dead. But what if the rioters who breached the U.S. Capitol were Black?

Pro-Trump insurrectionists are confronted by Capitol Police officers outside the Senate Chamber

Pro-Trump insurrectionists are confronted by Capitol Police officers outside the Senate Chamber inside the Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The scene was unlike anything we’d ever witnessed.

An angry mob descended on Capitol Hill after attending a rally where President Donald Trump erroneously claimed the election was stolen and directed his followers to confront members of Congress.

“We’re going to walk down there, and I’ll be there with you,” Trump said at the rally. “We’re going to walk down … to the Capitol and we are going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women. And we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them. Because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong.”

The crowd took his message to heart.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

It marched to Capitol Hill as members of Congress prepared to confirm Joe Biden as the country’s next president. When it got there, all hell broke loose.

Rioters quickly pushed through barricades that were guarded by a token force of Capitol police officers. They broke through windows and scrambled inside, using ropes and ladders to climb the walls.

Supporters of President Donald Trump climb the west wall of the the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington.
Supporters of President Donald Trump climb the west wall of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

As the mob made its way to Congressional offices and onto the Senate floor, members of Congress were rushed out of the building. Multiple police officers were injured in the fracas, and before the siege was complete, a woman was shot and later died from her injuries. Three others had separate medical emergencies and died as well. And later, two improvised explosive devices were found in the city and disabled by law enforcement.

Many Americans have questions about the violent attack that led to four fatalities, multiple injuries, and more than 50 arrests on charges ranging from assault to carrying a gun without a license.

But for me, there is only one question: Would those insurrectionists have been allowed to breach the Capitol if they were Black?

The answer is an unequivocal no.

That is the truth that must be explored if we are ever to be the nation we claim to be. Black people and white people are treated differently by the police, and that’s why it was so easy for an overwhelmingly white mob to attack the Capitol.

“Our democracy is under unprecedented assault unlike anything we’ve seen in modern times,” said President-elect Joe Biden, who spoke in an effort to calm the tensions. He added that the violence was “an assault on the rule of law.”

Biden was right, of course. But here’s the problem: While America is a nation of laws, our laws are not applied equally. Until they are, don’t tell me to respect our institutions when others can attack them with impunity. Don’t tell me to protest peacefully when others engage in mob rule. Don’t tell me that police treat everyone equally when clearly, that’s not the case.

On Jan. 6, as Congress tried to conduct the people’s business, thousands of mostly white men descended on the Capitol and engaged in wanton destruction and violence. For hours, the police did virtually nothing. In fact, police officers were captured taking selfies with those who stormed the capitol. That’s no surprise. It’s happened before.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor
People shelter in the House gallery as pro-Trump insurrectionaists try to break into the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

When self-proclaimed white supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine Black people in a South Carolina church, the officers who arrested him took him to Burger King.

When Kyle Rittenhouse showed up in Kenosha, Wisconsin, with an AR-15, claiming he was guarding businesses, police thanked him for being there. Then, after Rittenhouse killed two people who were protesting the shooting of a Black man by police, officers allowed Rittenhouse to walk by when he appeared to be trying to give himself up.

Right here in Philadelphia, when white men with bats were threatening people in Fishtown, police allowed it to happen.

This can no longer be allowed. Because when people know they won’t be held accountable for their actions, they’ll do almost anything.

That was true for the people who attacked the Capitol, and if Donald Trump is allowed to get away with inciting them to riot, it will be true for Trump as well.

Get the WHYY app!

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal