Let’s examine race and policing in Portland & DC

I and others have mentioned, of course, the vastly different treatment given to BLM protesters when it was thought they might inflict property damage and yesterday’s insurrectionists. There are numerous reports, including from Newsweek, about how law enforcement had plenty of information leading them to predict that the publicly-planned January 6th event would become violent. They even had good reason to fear there would be violence against people, not just property. For a variety of reasons, they did not take seriously the need for event security or even security on Capitol Hill. One reason is particularly interesting: they feared it would be even worse if they acted to prepare defenses against violence. Why? Here’s Newsweek’s take:

They feared that Donald Trump would pull a “Samson,” bringing down the whole house on top of him in the two weeks before he left the White House. …

Many people in official Washington had tolerated and even humored President Trump’s sedition and incitement to riot. FBI sources said the White House wasn’t ordering any new security measures, wasn’t ordering any additional resources, and wasn’t coordinating any extension of the so-called inaugural “National Security Special Event” timeline to include this week (it officially covers January 15-21). It wasn’t doing those things, the sources said, because presidential aides were afraid that any movement might provoke Donald Trump to do something even worse than whatever he was already planning.

So this isn’t directly about the race of the rioters, insurrectionists & terrorists. Instead we have Trump taking offense that people would believe him capable of doing bad things. As a result of this grievance, the people in charge of security thought that he was likely to deliberately escalate his attacks so that any increase in security would lead to an even greater increase in violence.

Of course, this isn’t entirely divorced from race either: the only way such a dangerously unstable nutbar could attain the presidency in the first place was to campaign on the idea that he would use his propensity for bullying, violence and destruction against specified minority targets so that the majority, from whom such a dangerously unstable personality could not hide his destructive character, could assure themselves that even though Trump is a bully, they themselves had nothing to fear from him.

In other words, a large number of people were okay with a candidate for the presidency (and ultimately accepting  of a president) dangerously and unpredictably attacking people so long as they felt certain those attacks would not be targeted at them. Mostly these people were white, since by and large people of color didn’t feel safe from being targeted when Trump so obviously espoused racist beliefs and made racist attacks. Mostly they were straight people, etc. The exceptions would always have reason to believe that they themselves did not belong to the communities Trump targeted even though they might have identifying characteristics Trump used to aim his attacks.

This is not a race-neutral situation. Even with exceptions, it’s clear that a dangerously unstable person who attacks others requires an environment of racism if they wish to win a majority even of electoral college votes. Nonetheless, it’s also not a situation in which the FBI or Capitol Police or Homeland Security officials were forced to consciously confront their racism. Nowhere in their thought process are they required to consciously think to themselves, “We are treating these people different because they are white.” Instead they could tell themselves that they were treating these people differently because their leader is Trump. The fact that Trump is a racist leader leading a mod of racist white people, while obvious to people who think about it, is also possible for a human brain to ignore. Since humans are known to engage in motivated reasoning, it wouldn’t be surprising to find that many of the security officials never stopped to think that race was a major, even dominant factor here.

Race was, of course, that major-to-dominant factor, however, despite the thought processes which we guess security officials might have used. There are many people observing this, and I’ll embed many of those observations below, but first let me simply juxtapose two videos. The first was taken by a reporter speaking to a woman who was pepper sprayed yesterday at the Capitol Building. The second is one filmed by me, speaking to a man who was pepper sprayed and tear gassed in Portland this summer at a BLM protest.

Here’s my video:


It’s impossible to compare how badly the two were impacted since we don’t know how long each of these different people have had to recover before being recorded. So let’s not read too much into the fact that the BLM protester seems to be worse off. Instead, let’s look at something else: why they were targeted.

In the first video a woman proud to tell interviewers that she had invaded the Capitol Building was pepper sprayed when she set foot inside. She proudly announces her participation in an insurrection. When asked why she was burglarizing the capitol, she declares, “This is a rebellion.” Nonetheless, she was pepper sprayed and allowed to retreat without arrest.

In the second video, we have a young man who was tear gassed and subject to pepper balls fired near him, who also successfully retreated without arrest. But what was the provocation that led authorities to attack him? He was picking up trash in the street. Sure, he was doing that during a BLM protest, but his actual behavior wasn’t dangerous or criminal. He did not specifically intend to overthrow the US government by violent or illegal means. He was expressing his opinion and along the way realized there was trash in the street that he could pick up to improve his city.

Both of these victims of chemical irritating agents are white, but one is subject to more-targeted direct spray by short range pepper aerosol. The other was subject to longer-range pepper containing projectiles and tear gas grenades, both of which are dramatically more likely to injure indiscriminately.

I would have preferred that the woman be arrested without the use of chemical weapons, not harmed and released as if chemical weapons were themselves the statutory punishment for her behavior. Nonetheless, for a wide range of values of “deserve”, most people would agree that the woman engaged in insurrection “deserved” to be pepper sprayed in a way that the man engaged in cleaning up trash while at a BLM event did not.

So as we’re talking about race and racism and policing, let’s just meditate on that: ignoring for now the somewhat complicated reasons for why this has happened, we can say that security officials treated nice white people cleaning up their city and asking for Black people to be treated with respect and with policies of deescalation and violence prevention as if they were a more dangerous threat to be punished more harshly and less discriminately than the racist, antagonistic white people who were violently storming the Capitol of the USA for the purpose of overturning a presidential election and installing through their violence a head of state who lost that election.

When picking up trash at an event for racial equality and ending police brutality is more threatening to your national order than violent insurrection, we must ask the question, how fundamental to your national order is racism and a regime of impunity for violent policing?


My primary point made, why not listen to some others making related points?

This one is just for background, so you can see what was happening (and perhaps consider how that might differ from picking up litter). Title of the video aside, you won’t actually see the doors come open:


Here we have police focussing their arrest power on … journalists. 


Finally, Shaun King:

For the record, I’ve seen reports of as many as 52 people arrrested. That said, clearly there are many people who are out free and were never subject to arrest who engaged in behavior that certainly gives probable cause to believe that they engaged in serious felonies.

That’s all for now. Obviously there’s lots to cover & I’ll be writing more later.






  1. Who Cares says

    30 or so of those 52 arrests were for breaking the curfew from what I have read.
    Then there are two journalists arrested.
    So from a crowd of tens of thousands of which hundreds (if not thousands) stormed the place around 20 got arrested.

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