Law enforcement's disastrous response during the deadly insurrection reveals a major gap in security: Who's viewed as a threat

Law enforcement's disastrous response during the deadly insurrection reveals a major gap in security: Who's viewed as a threat
A pro-Trump mob is seen after breaching the Capitol building on Wednesday.John Minchillo/AP
  • Capitol Police officers failed at keeping pro-Trump rioters from breaching the US Capitol on January 6.
  • Experts said the uncoordinated response reveal law enforcement's flawed perception of who's a threat.

Thousands of pro-Trump protesters successfully breached the US Capitol building on January 6, forcing lawmakers to take cover as they voted on certifying the 2020 election results.

Capitol Police were overwhelmed with rioters as they pushed past barriers and into the Capitol - in part from a lack of reinforcements and an uncoordinated response to the worst breach of the building since 1814.

Some critics contrasted the police response to the Capitol siege to that of the Black Lives Matter protests, including former first lady Michelle Obama.
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"There's one question I just can't shake: What if these rioters had looked like the folks who go to Ebenezer Baptist Church every Sunday? What would have been different?" Obama said in a statement in response to the violent insurrection.

"I think we all know the answer," she said.

Though direct comparisons between police response to the two protests are difficult to make given the different settings and circumstances, Jack Glaser, professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, told Insider that disparity lies at a "systemic level."
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"I would feel more confident saying that there was something going on here at the systemic level, at the leadership level, with respect to who they expect to be violent and who they care about, or who they are more likely to defer to and try to give the benefit of the doubt to," Glaser, who studies racial bias and how it operates in policing, said.

"If officers only think that they're threatened by Black people, that makes them very vulnerable to white people," he continued, "and I think this case, the Capitol insurrection, was a glaring example of that - they underestimate the threat coming from white agitators at their peril." Read more:'It was degrading': Black Capitol custodial staff talk about what it felt like to clean up the mess left by violent pro-Trump white supremacists
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Tom Nolan, associate professor of sociology at Emmanuel College who previously worked with the Boston Police Department, said the response of the Capitol Police failed to meet his expectations.

Nolan, who has nearly 30 years of experience in law enforcement, told Insider that the Capitol Police's failure to keep the rioters from breaching the building raises questions on why it was allowed to happen, especially given the public planning of the protests-turned-insurrection via social media.

"I think it's certainly fair to question why the Capitol Police didn't take it as seriously as they should have," he said.
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He added that the disparity in police response to the Black Lives Matter protests and the Capitol siege could lie in that the officers may have felt "at some level" that "the people who were coming into protests were in some way kindred spirits."

"I think that law enforcement saw a group of largely white men, protesters, who very closely resembled in appearance, the members of the Capitol Police, I thought, in carrying Blue Lives Matter flags and the Thin Blue Line patches that we saw," he said.

Law enforcement's disastrous response during the deadly insurrection reveals a major gap in security: Who's viewed as a threat
Supporters of US President Donald Trump protest in the US Capitol Rotunda on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC.SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images
Last week, former President Donald Trump was the first president to be impeached twice. The impeachment vote to charge him with inciting the violence that ensued at the Capitol was the most bipartisan in in US history - with 10 Republicans voting to impeach the president.
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But a number of GOP lawmakers voted against impeaching the president. Some who voted against impeachment feared for their safety and that of their families, according to a Democratic colleague.

Glaser said, although he sees "a lot of very strong negative reaction" to the insurrection, it worries him to see that "there is a fair amount of rationalization and appeasement that makes me worried that it's going to be seen as a quasi-legitimate way to respond to an election result that you don't like or some kind of governmental shift that you don't like."

"And in that sense, it's very much an act of terrorism," he said. "It is a violent act that's intended to change a political outcome, and that's classic terrorism."
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Aside from his worries, Glaser said he does think the Capitol siege could "move the needle" in how policing is conducted, because "it's much harder to explain to police officers and leaders that, statistically, white men pose a comparable threat to them as Black men and Hispanic men do because statistics are just not palpable."

"So when you have a really vivid example like this - of a mob of white people beating police officers - I think that that has the potential to, you know, stick in their memories better and to change their views," he continued.Expanded Coverage Module: Capitol-Siege-Module
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