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Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington. (AP) Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington. (AP)

Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington. (AP)

Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg January 11, 2021

Black Lives Matter protests faced a more militarized response than Capitol mob

If Your Time is short

  • At the earliest encounters between police and Black Lives Matter protesters in D.C., officers were ready with full riot gear, shields and chemical agents.

  • Capitol Police in regular uniforms were the first line of defense when Trump supporters marched on the Capitol.

  • Federal officials were quick to see fires and looting in other cities as signs of pending violence, but ignored evidence of planned attacks by Trump supporters.

In remarks to Ohio reporters, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said there was a big difference in police response between what Black Lives Matter protesters faced and what riotous Trump supporters encountered at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

In the summer, "peaceful Black protesters outside the White House were met with tear gas, rubber bullets, a full militarized response," Brown said Jan. 8. "While this week, white supremacists, rioters were able to breach the Capitol."

The ease with which a mob of people fresh from a rally led by President Donald Trump breached the Capitol and ran rampant through the halls of Congress has led to resignations and triggered formal investigations. 

While no two protest situations unfold in exactly the same way, Brown’s comparison of the earliest clashes in each event is accurate. 

Early use of riot gear against Black Lives Matter protesters

After Minneapolis police killed unarmed George Floyd on May 25, protests against police brutality spread across the country. In Minneapolis, protesters surrounded a police station May 28, entered it and set fires inside. There was looting, vandalism and other fires in the city. 

Trump vowed the federal government was ready to step in.

"These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen," Trump tweeted at about 1 a.m. May 29. "Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts." 

RELATED: From Miami '67 to Donald Trump 2020: The history of 'when the looting starts, the shooting starts'

On the afternoon of May 29, the Black Lives Matter protest movement arrived in Washington, D.C. About 1,000 people gathered in a park across the street from the White House. The confrontation between police and protesters grew more tense. At about 3 a.m., a line of officers in riot gear with shields advanced and deployed chemical irritants to disperse the crowd.

The next day, police in full riot gear, again facing a line of protestors — some throwing water bottles and eggs — charged and broke up the group. Video from a local news reporter captured the clash.

There are iconic images that took place after the initial clashes. Police on horseback and officers firing pepper balls charged through peaceful protesters. Their goal — move them away from a church where Trump was scheduled to have his picture taken holding up a Bible. Lines of National Guard troops stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. 

But even from the first encounters, the use of riot gear and shields against Black Lives Matter protesters stands in sharp contrast to the security line that met the Trump supporters at the Capitol Jan. 6.

When marchers walked up to a portable metal barricade on the Capitol grounds, they saw a handful of officers in their regular uniforms standing on the other side. The marchers and officers struggled over control of the barricade. The Trump supporters overwhelmed the police.

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Soon after, a line of police were tussling with Trump supporters on the steps of the Capitol. Rioters shoved police officers, spraying chemical irritants and hitting them with lead pipes. Police deployed flash bangs and pepper spray in an attempt to ward off the crowd. 

A couple of hours after rioters breached the Capitol’s first line of defense, police reinforcements began to arrive. Many wore riot gear. They used tear gas to disperse the rioters. Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser imposed a 6 p.m. curfew.

After curfew, law enforcement officers clad in body armor began to use aggressive tactics similar to their treatment of Black Lives Matter protesters, advancing on rioters and whacking them with batons. 

Response to advance warnings

While police forces prepared for the worst with the Black Lives Matter protests, the people in charge of protecting the Capitol failed to anticipate the aggression of the Trump supporters. 

Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, head of the House committee that controls the Capitol Police budget, said that a week before the march, the Capitol Police assured him that everything was under control. Ryan said he was told they expected a "pretty vanilla" protest.

"There wasn't going to be any kind of violence anticipated," Ryan said. "Maybe some dust-ups. Maybe issues around people trying to get guns into the District of Columbia, where they have very strict gun laws, but absolutely nothing like this."

The people who study crowds and police say there was ample reason to plan for a much more aggressive group.

"There was clear intelligence about where this was headed," said Ed Maguire, Arizona State University criminologist. "All you had to do is go on Parler (the alt-right social media platform) for 10 minutes. I was on the night before. They were talking about violence. This is open source material, and the police would have had more."

Just a month earlier, a Dec. 12 Trump rally had attracted members of the Proud Boys, a violence-prone group that showed up again on Jan. 6. In December, they were involved in street fights that led to multiple stabbings. Bowser urged residents to stay home and avoid any confrontation with people coming to the rally.

The night before the assault on the Capitol, members of the Proud Boys and a militia group called the Three Percenters were in Washington wearing body armor and helmets, with some carrying clubs.

Our ruling

Brown said Black Lives Matter protesters outside the White House faced a more militarized response than rioters who assaulted the Capitol.

The record shows that early on, federal officials planned for aggressive clashes with Black Lives Matter protesters, while those responsible for Capitol security planned for peaceful protests. Full riot gear was quickly used during the summer, but was not at key spots in the police line set up around the Capitol. 

There were ample warnings that Trump supporters would engage in physical violence, but officials did not plan accordingly.

We rate this claim True.

Our Sources

WTRF, Senator Sherrod Brown condemns Capitol riots, Jan. 8, 2021

WTAP, Sen. Brown among lawmakers calling for President Trump’s removal, Jan. 8, 2021

ABC News, 'Extraordinary dichotomy' in police response to Black Lives Matter protests, Capitol chaos: DC attorney general, Jan. 8, 2021

New York Times, ‘Our President Wants Us Here’: The Mob That Stormed the Capitol, Jan. 9, 2021

Philip Crowther, tweet, Jan. 6, 2021

Minnesota Public Radio, Floyd protests: Mpls. police precinct overrun in night of fury, fire, May 28, 2020

Washington Post, Protests, fires rage through the night in Minneapolis, May 29, 2020

White House, tweet, May 29, 2020

DCist, Demonstrators In D.C. Gather To Protest Death Of George Floyd, May 29, 2020

Alejandro Alvarez, tweet, May 30, 2020

Alejandro Alvarez, tweet, May 30, 2020

Alejandro Alvarez, tweet, May 30, 2020

Washington Post, Demonstrations for George Floyd lead to clashes outside White House, May 30, 2020

New York Times, Pro-Trump Protesters to Gather Amid Fears of Violence, Jan. 5, 2021

Interview, Edward Maguire, professor, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Arizona State University, Jan. 7, 2021

Rep. Tim Ryan, Press briefing, Jan. 7, 2021


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