Column: BLM Protests and the Raid on Capitol Hill are Not the Same


Peter Elliot (right) and Wikimedia Commons (left)

While some are quick to compare the events at the Capitol to Black Lives Matter protests, it is crucial to look at the motivations that fueled each event.

Sarah Patel and Anna Pierson

The United States Capitol has housed Congress since 1800. It is where the legislative branch of the federal government writes the laws of our nation and where presidents are inaugurated and deliver a State of the Union address every year. The Capitol Building is recognized as a symbol of democracy all over the world. 

Less than a week ago, this sacred building came under attack.

While Congress was counting the electoral votes from the 2020 election, a normally ceremonial ritual, around 3 p.m. on Wednesday, January 6, a violent group of Trump supporters breached the building. 

The mob sent Congress ducking for cover and into hiding as they looted, smashed windows, took control of the Senate chamber, and carried Confederate flags throughout the halls. Amid the chaos, six firearms were seized from rioters. 

A smashed window inside the Capitol building, where Congress was convening to discuss the 2020 electoral votes.

Democratic Illinois Representative Mike Quigley was in the House chamber when the insurrectionists entered the building.

 “It’s not good to be around terrified colleagues, with guns drawn toward people who have a barricade … people crying. Not what you want to see,” Quigley said.

Five people died, including a police officer. The country has been left to mourn the shameful events that took place.

Most seem to outright condemn the actions of those who participated in the assault and recognize that an attack like this is unparalleled in modern times.

However, some are preaching a false equivalency that compares the events at the Capitol on Wednesday to events that occurred over the summer at Black Lives Matter protests.

Right-wing commentator Tomi Lahren tweeted out her condemnations for both the rioters and spectators on Wednesday.

“I am very disappointed in the acts of destruction/lawlessness at the Capitol today but for liberals to act like they are suddenly so appalled & disgusted by chaos & protest is the biggest load of BS. Y’all loved this kind of thing(and worse) all summer,” Lahren wrote.

A menacing display of a noose on Capitol grounds.

Despite Lahren’s claims, the Black Lives Matter protests and the Capitol Hill raid is not an “apple-to-apple” comparison. It is crucial to distinguish the difference between them by looking at the motivations that fueled each event.

The acts that took place on Capitol Hill last week were incited by President Trump and were based on the conspiracies of a fraudulent election that were repeatedly proven to be false. 

After days of counting votes—delayed because many were mail-in ballots due to Covid-19—Joe Biden was unofficially named president-elect on Nov 7, 2020. Since then, President Trump, unable to accept defeat, has relentlessly attempted to overturn the results in his favor. 

A packed crowd swarming the steps of the Capitol.

Trump and his allies filed a total of 62 lawsuits seeking to overturn the results in states he lost, 61 of which failed. One Pennsylvania judge sided with Trump and ruled that voters had three days after election night to provide proper ID and “cure” their ballots. This did not affect the results; Biden still won Pennsylvania. Furthermore, the Supreme Court sided against Trump twice and recounts were held in Georgia and Wisconsin. Biden still won.

Despite the overwhelming evidence that the election was fair, Trump did not surrender and continuously claimed that the election was “stolen” from him, which eventually led to the attempted coup last week.

“They rigged an election. They rigged it like never before,” Trump said at his rally on Wednesday, just hours before the insurrection on Capitol Hill. “So we’re going to, we’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, I love Pennsylvania Avenue, and we’re going to the Capitol and we’re going to try and give … our Republicans, the weak ones, because the strong ones don’t need any of our help, we’re going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.”

Hiding behind what they call “patriotism,” these rioters sought to disrupt the very foundation that our nation is built on. This was a blatant attack on democracy as a whole.  

In contrast to the conspiracies and falsehoods that the Capitol insurrection was based on, the Black Lives Matter protests were in response to the realities that people of color face every day in America. 

Protestors from Lake Forest’s Black Lives Matter protest in June 2020 (photo courtesy of Peter Elliott).

They were in response to the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis and to the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Eric Garner.

One objective of the BLM movement is to remember the names of those who lost their lives simply because of the color of their skin and reform the system responsible for those lives.

Still, some have misconceptions about the BLM protests, insisting that they aim to simply incite violence, tear down property, and loot businesses.  

While some people seeking to undermine the movement’s efforts to support the Black community took advantage of the BLM protests, more than 93% of BLM protests last summer were peaceful. The violence at the other 7% disappointed many who took part in the movement including Amika Tendaji, an organizer of BLM Chicago.

“Organizationally, we certainly don’t have anything to do with — or condone — illegal activity that, you know, really frightens and, quite frankly, pisses off a lot of Black folks,” Tendaji said. 

Furthermore, much of the violence at Black Lives Matter protests was instigated by the police.      

Nearly 1,000 instances of police brutality towards protesters, and even journalists, were recorded at BLM protests over the summer.

It is easy to imagine the response of the police had those on Capitol Hill not been white, but rather people of color.

Protestors from Lake Forest’s Black Lives Matter protest in June 2020 (photo courtesy of Peter Elliott).

“If that had been a minority, Black crowd, they would still be putting toe tags on individuals today,” Linda Williams, criminal justice professor at Middle Tennessee State University and leader of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, said of the Capitol rioters. “We have to acknowledge that there’s a difference.”

During the raid on Wednesday, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser requested a limited force of 340 from the National Guard. They were directed to guide “traffic flow.”

Trump even initially resisted sending the National Guard and Vice President Mike Pence had to take the lead in coordinating the deployment of the troops. 

On the other hand, peaceful BLM protests were met with rubber bullets and tear gas. 

The Black Lives Matter protests over the summer were fighting against white privilege; the Capitol insurrection was a display of it. 

Protestors from Lake Forest’s Black Lives Matter protest in June 2020 (photo courtesy of Peter Elliott).

Overall, the BLM protests aimed to raise awareness about the systemic oppression and police brutality that terrorizes people of color. The Black Lives Matter movement supports the principles of equality, liberty, and freedom that our democracy was founded on.

Those fighting for the lives of people of color should not be equated with the people on Capitol Hill, who were not peaceful protesters, but domestic terrorists. 

Though the intensity of the events last week may be shocking, the deep-rooted division among political parties that were exposed by the Trump supporters on Capitol Hill should almost come as no surprise. 

The polarization of our country has been disruptive and has only been exacerbated during Trump’s presidency as the lines between politics and human rights seemed to blur. 

The storming of Capitol Hill is a wake-up call to all Americans. Our democracy is at risk. It is time to take steps toward unification and heal as a nation. If we don’t, our country will continue on this self-destructive spiral of violence and hatred.

There was hope of this when Congress agreed to reconvene after the raid and continue the electoral vote count.

Both democrats and republicans alike, including prominent conservatives like Senator Mitch McConnell and Vice President Mike Pence, denounced the actions of those who took part in the insurrection and refused to let them stand in the way of fulfilling their duties. 

They agreed that the attempts to erode the foundation of our nation would not succeed, and democracy would prevail.

“To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today, you did not win,” Pence said. “Violence never wins. Freedom wins. And this is still the people’s house.”