Experts disagree with Detroit police chief’s comments on Capitol riot
Following the fatal attack on the U.S. Capitol, Detroit Police Chief James Craig questioned whether law enforcement treatment of the pro-Trump insurgents contrasts sharply with Black Lives Matter protesters.
Black Lives Matter supporters, Democratic lawmakers, and President-elect Joe Biden have claimed that police response to the two groups suggests marked differences. But Craig isn’t so sure.
“If it was a black life issue, would African Americans approaching the Capitol have given a different reaction? Possibly,” Craig said during an interview with Fox 2. He then questioned the suggestion.
“If you look at the protests against Black Lives Matter in Seattle, they were allowed to take over six city blocks without resistance. They took over police stations,” said Craig, later repeating his comments in an interview with the Detroit News. In June, Black Lives Matter protesters occupied a police station in Seattle and set up an autonomous zone around the building.
Police experts say there is a clear discrepancy between how law enforcement officials respond to Black Lives Matter protesters and Trump supporters who have gathered at the Capitol, and that Craig is choosing an example.
In response to a request for comment, Craig pointed to other cases where he said that Black Lives Matter protesters who violated the law had met little to no resistance. “I took Seattle as an example, but I’ve seen a lot of other examples. I saw pictures of Philadelphia where a protest was rioting, there was looting, the cops were pulling out, and you could see people doing business with items resistance ran up the shops. “
Craig added, “Granted, there were police stations at various times across the country during the summer, intermittently responding to violent attacks.”
Craig said he believes preparations for the protests against Black Lives Matter in Washington exposed an inequality in law enforcement compared to the pro-Trump demonstrations, and that the summer insurgents did more against the rule of law than the protesters against Black Lives Matter. “This was an attack on our democracy,” he said.
Police experts say the riot did not pose the same threat as the protests against Black Lives Matter, nor did it see the violence against protesters escalating over the summer.
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A mistake in the preparation
Rashawn Ray, a sociologist investigating policing at the Brookings Institution, said the use of forces in response to protests against Black Lives Matter in Washington, DC showed a belief that the protests posed a violent threat.
“We actually have an apple-to-apples comparison,” he said. By the end of the first week of the Black Lives Matter protests in June, the Trump administration had deployed at least 5,800 troops, agents and officers to patrol the streets of the capital.
Before the pro-Trump demonstrations, the US Capitol Police expected a largely peaceful protest, although Trump supporters openly discussed online attacks on the Capitol on several occasions.
And, unlike protests against Black Lives Matter, where police maintained skirmish lines, many of which were unnecessary, said Arizona State University criminologist Ed Maguire, there was no such line on Jan. 6 when Maguire said they did is needed.
“It’s hard to imagine that critical infrastructure is more valuable than the US Capitol, the center of our legislature. So in this case you want to have a heavily defended battle line, and in the end we had a porous, poorly defended battle line,” said Maguire.
There is evidence that the police treat right-wing and left-wing protesters differently. In a recent article, University of York sociologist Lesley Wood analyzed 64 protests in the United States in 2017 and 2018 that attracted counter-protesters, which tends to increase the likelihood of violent confrontation. She found that the police arrested left-wing protesters disproportionately.
An example of cherries
But Craig pointed to Seattle, where the city’s mayor – not the chief of police – made the decision to remove barriers around a police station as an inadequate response to Black Lives Matter protesters who reflected the mistakes he made in responding to the insurgents saw storming the Capitol. “In those cases where law enforcement withdrew and did not respond to criminal behavior by BLM protesters, what is different about it from the Capitol?” Asked Craig.
However, a look at the police response to the Black Lives Matter protests at the national level shows that law enforcement officers reacted aggressively to protesters, police experts say. In some cases there was an overreaction and in some cases police officers were disciplined for using force against demonstrators.
During the summer, peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters were exposed to tear gas and rubber bullets outside the White House. An investigation by the New York Times found more than 60 videos of New York Police Department officers using violence against protesters who appeared to be unjustified.
Police used violence against demonstrators in Detroit. “Violence in and of itself does not mean brutality,” said Craig after a night of rioting in Detroit in late August that resulted in 44 arrests. Craig stated that it was legal for the police to use force, but not excessive force. The Detroit protests led to 33 police investigations. So far, three incidents have been classified as misconduct.
A wrong equivalence
Craig’s comparison of the Seattle Black Lives Matter protest and the Capitol Rebellion is valid in that both represent “dramatic failures of the protest police,” Maguire said.
But that’s where the similarities end, he said.
“What happened in the Capitol was very different, trying to storm a legislature and disrupt a constitutionally mandated process,” said Maguire. “We haven’t seen Black Lives Matter do anything on this scale.”
Michael Sierra-Arévalo, a sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin, agrees. “Looting, making fires, these things are illegal, as is taking over the Capitol,” said Sierra-Arévalo. But he said observers should ask if there is a legitimate criticism at the heart of the violence that has occurred. In that regard, Sierra-Arévalo said the two events were different.
“Police brutality is real, election fraud is not.”
There is no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election.
Clara Hendrickson reviews Michigan issues and policies as a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. Contact them at [email protected] or 313-296-5743 for comments or suggestion of a fact check. Follow her on Twitter @clarajanehen.