Stark differences in the police handling of a pro-Trump mob that stormed Congress and last year’s Black Lives Matter protests has sparked widespread accusations of double standards.
The disparity in response by law enforcement to demonstrations against racial injustice by protesters that included large numbers of black Americans and the predominantly white rioters who ransacked Capitol Hill has been highlighted by both president-elect Joe Biden and former first lady Michelle Obama.
While largely peaceful crowds protesting the police death of George Floyd were met with rubber bullets and tear gas amid thousands of arrests, the people who ran amok at the heart of America’s democracy mostly encountered little resistance and suffered no more than being escorted off the premises.
And it is not the first time such differences in police reactions have led to criticism.
Last May, a large group of mainly white men armed with rifles stormed the Michigan Statehouse building in response to the imposition of coronavirus restrictions, with little repercussion.
The following month, riot police forcibly cleared Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters to enable a now infamous photo-op with Donald Trump in front of a church.
This week’s nearly unhindered violent invasion of the Capitol building triggered an impassioned response from Ms Obama, who said in a statement: “They desecrated the centre of American government.
“And once authorities finally gained control of the situation, these rioters and gang members were led out of the building not in handcuffs, but free to carry on their days.”
Questioning what would have happened if those taking part had been black, she said: “I think we all know the answer. This summer’s Black Lives Matter protests were an overwhelmingly peaceful movement… And yet, in city after city, day after day, we saw peaceful protesters met with brute force.
“We saw cracked skulls and mass arrests, law enforcement pepper spraying its way through a peaceful demonstration for a presidential photo-op.”
Ms Obama added: “Seeing the gulf between the responses to (Wednesday’s) riot and this summer’s peaceful protests and the larger movement for racial injustice is so painful. It hurts.”
The Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation said in a statement: “When Black people protest for our lives, we are all too often met by National Guard troops or police equipped with assault rifles, shields, tear gas and battle helmets.
“When white people attempt a coup, they are met by an underwhelming number of law enforcement personnel who act powerless to intervene, going so far as to pose for selfies with terrorists.”
Newly sworn-in St Louis Representative Cori Bush, who was among the protesters to face down police and National Guardsmen in 2014 after police killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, said the race of the Washington DC rioters played a big part in their ability to breach Congress.
Had the mob been black, “we would have been laid out,” she said.
Mr Biden also noted the double standard, saying he had received a text message from his granddaughter of an image showing “military people in full military gear – scores of them lining the steps of the Lincoln Memorial” during a BLM protest last year.
“She said ‘Pop, this isn’t fair.'” the president-elect recalled.
He said: “No one can tell me that if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protesting yesterday… they would [not] have been treated very, very differently than a mob of thugs that stormed the Capitol.
“We all know that’s true. And it is unacceptable.”