Riots in Black and White

The comparisons abounded, the insurrection in Washington and the riots last summer. Wasn’t the level of violence and destruction far worse when Kenosha burned? Why were militarized and armored police standing on the Lincoln Memorial when there were barely a handful of cops protecting the Capitol? Why did cops readily fire OS gas, rubber bullets and flashbangs at crowds of mostly peaceful protesters in Portland while they stood aside open doors leading to the Rotunda?

The comparisons still abound, as arrests of some of the more prominently identifiable rioters are made at home in distant states rather than at the scene after being clubbed down, kettled into dead ends or seized en masse as part of the amorphous mob of people whose foremost crime was presence at the scene?

According to the president-elect and his sidekick, it’s as simple as black and white.

Did we “witness two systems of justice,” a curious phrasing since it wasn’t a system of justice at all, but even assuming what she meant to say was two tactical approaches of defense by law enforcement, was this about the race or politics of the insurrection as opposed to the protests and riots for “justice”? The president and vice president-elect saw it as obvious, as did many others. Indeed, the difference between the level of preparedness and use of force is undeniable.

The problem isn’t that the distinctions between the two aren’t real. They are. The problem is that the comparison is apples to Chevys. This isn’t to say that if a BLM assault on the Capitol happened, it would be dealt with as was the insurrection by Trump’s lunatics. Frankly, it seems almost impossible to imagine the police would have been caught so absurdly unprepared to thwart their breaching the Capitol and so reluctant to employ massive force to repel them. But that’s my speculation. I believe it to be true, but I cannot prove it by comparing very different things.

Nor is this an argument that the failure to repel the insurrection reflects a difference of perspective toward riots by the left and riots by the right. Why weren’t there ten thousand troops, Capitol, city, federal, national guard, all armed and armored, surrounding the Capitol, ready, willing and able to take out the few thousand doofuses wearing Viking hats or Nazi sweatshirts?

For the handful of cops manning the gates, the risk of being overwhelmed was overwhelming. It shouldn’t have been. If the concern was optics, that a scene where cops were firing upon white people believed to be justifiably enraged at the false claims of their beloved leader denied his re-election, the nation falling to the cheating woke barbarians, that would have escalated a national uprising of the right to bring us to civil war, were the optics any better as they happened? The insurrection was televised, and it was simultaneously outrageous and ridiculous, as goofy-looking fools paraded through the Capitol holding pieces of democracy in their dirty hands.

On the other hand, an insurrection’s worst offense is symbolic, that it attacked the seat of government in the performance of its duty. The edifice they sought to burn down didn’t so much have a street address, but a concept, democracy. There weren’t billions of dollars of damage that has to be suffered by innocent bystanders to the madness. Sure, there was damage, including the bizarre and disgusting smearing of feces on the floor of the hallway, but that can more easily be cleaned and sanitized than a razed, burned-out building can house those who once lived there or spent their life building a business there.

We make comparisons not to determine the degree of wrongfulness of any particular act, as if the violation of one is any less wrong because of the violation of another. It’s the logical fallacy of “tu quoque,” which has lost all its juice as an argument that only the disingenuous make. The riots were bad, awful, and they caused enormous harm and damage to people. The insurrection was bad, awful, and caused less damage to buildings and people, although there was surely damage, than harm to democracy. There are big differences and little differences. They are entirely comparable in that they were both wrong and harmful, and not at all comparable for the purposes to which comparisons have been put.

What was Kamala Harris’ point here, that police should have held off and allowed buildings to burn and stores to be looted, or that police should have fired into the crowds on the Capitol steps and taken them out?

Of course, neither was her point, and this was just a facile use of what already happened to make a collateral point, that “systemic racism” is real, justifying whatever policies and paradigm shifts can be tied to it. But just as each of these terrible things, riots or insurrection, and the particular ways in which the different police forces and government chose to address them, stands or falls on their own, so too does each policy or paradigm shift as it is put forward. The handling of Trump’s white faux patriots and the woke BLM radicals aren’t proof or disproof, no matter how angry you are, whether for or against them.

It is no more useful to minimize the harm of one to condemn the other than it is to justify the motives of one to lessen its wrongfulness. No matter how true one can believe that the BLM riots happened to serve the just ends of eliminating racism and police abuse, that doesn’t make the deluded Trump followers any less certain that they were fighting for the legitimacy of the presidential elections, even though it was a lie. The factual accuracy of beliefs doesn’t change the sincerity of beliefs any more than it makes the building burned and stores looted any less damaged.

There is, of course, one commonality between these incidents that are otherwise distinct in far too many ways to make comparisons valid: They reflect our inability to step back and think honestly about bad things that are happening around the nation and try to reach sustainable solutions. Instead, we point fingers, attempt to shift blame, and wrap ourselves in the righteousness of what one tribe does for its cause as opposed to what the other does for its cause. These may not be comparable, but they are all bad, destructive and contribute nothing to solving the problems that are blowing up a nation.


32 thoughts on “Riots in Black and White

    1. SHG Post author

      Like any other politician, Harris is entitled to favor whatever tribe advances her political career at any given moment. But it’s worthwhile to remember what she is and what she’s doing as she spouts platitudes from her bully pulpit, just as that works the other way for other pols.

  1. Guitardave

    “One thing is clear,” said one political analyst. “These people obviously don’t know the sweet, sweet justice of lugging a 60-inch TV back to your apartment to show how much you care about your cause.”

    From The Babylon Bee, 1/7/21

  2. Hal


    I can’t quite grasp the point you’re trying to make here: “They are entirely comparable in that they were both wrong and harmful, and not at all comparable for the purposes to which comparisons have been put”.

    Would you care to elaborate for the comprehension challenged among us?


    1. SHG Post author

      Disparate things can be bad while neither being the same nor equivalents for the purpose of somehow offsetting each other so as to claim one isn’t bad because the other was worse.

  3. KeyserSoze

    They don’t want to face the problems and deal with them. Not only would they lose power, they would lose their overwhelming sense of moral superiority over the rest of us.

    As long as you keep fools agitated about X they will not look at Y.

    If you want to see what someone is really like, give them power. Some people should never hold it over others.

  4. SJW

    In a week when the U.S. Capitol was overrun by armed Nazis emboldened by the president and members of Congress, only the keenest of intellects would be able to see that the REAL problem with our society comes from Kamala Harris and Shonda Rhimes.

    1. SHG Post author

      No matter how bad one tribe is, there is always someone from the other to remind us that they, too, can’t stop themselves from being a blithering asshole. Thank you for being that asshole.

    2. Hunting Guy

      (Mr. Greenfield, if this hits the trash bin that’s fine but this comment hit me hard.)

      SJW – I lost relatives to real Nazis in Dachau and Flossenbürg. You have no idea what you are talking about. The people that invaded the Capital were NOT Nazis. They were patriots or terrorist depending on your point of view, but definitely not Nazis.

      In short, you are an ignorant idiot. I would use stronger language but out of deference to our host, I won’t.

      1. SHG Post author

        One of the worst aspects of what Trump and white sumpermacists have done to us is to normalize the use of Nazis as a banal epithet. Remember Maxos? No, whatever they are, they are not Nazis.

  5. Charles

    There also is the issue of comparing a response on day one of one event with another series of events that has taken place over months. Hopefully there is no day two.

    1. SHG Post author

      If there is a Day 2, and they fail to be prepared to handle it or use the force necessary, it will change the equation significantly.

    1. SHG Post author

      This is pretty much the exact opposite of “whataboutism,” the trendy way for poorly educated kids to characterize “tu quoque.” The point here is that many things can be wrong and bad, but each is wrong and bad for its own reasons and neither excuses the other based on which one believes to be worse.

  6. Jay

    You couldn’t make it a week without being unable to turn this into the fault of the left. There is something deeply wrong with you. Your need to attack the left is a sickness. Especially now when our society sits at the precipice of right-wing authoritarianism, you can’t let go.

    Get help.

    1. SHG Post author

      “Right-wing authoritarianism” isn’t the fault of the left. Left-wing authoritarism is the fault of the left.

    2. David

      It’s interesting that Jay is almost invariably the most progressive and least flexible person here. Why so rigid? Why so absolute? Why so close minded? The hard right may be dumb and nuts, but I fear the hard left if more vicious and self-righteous about it.

      I understand why you argue that they present the more insidious threat, even if they aren’t the most dangerous.

      1. SHG Post author

        Maybe Jay would argue it’s different because he’s right. Who doesn’t believe it’s different because they’re right?

      1. John Barleycorn

        Do get on the undertube back channels and check out some of the live streamer footage.

        The vitriolic echo chamber “rage’ bouncing off the capitol floor and steps is way, way, way, way, way. way. way. way, way more fucking “crazy” real than anything you have seen on the TeeVee set or front intertube channels.

        My apologies to keep on fucking with you esteemed one.

        We just disagree about the posts you toss in the garbage can.

        That and I have forgotten to remove my boots, one too many times, while beating on your back door at 3 a.m., one to many time.

        So, I am certain, any apology rings a bit hollow…

        Rightfully so.

        Cheers and Happy New Year!

  7. B. McLeod

    I rather thought the difference in police practice was due to the new progressive wokieness in use of force. They were following the Portlandia Model (with the adjustment that they took pictures to help track down the rioters later).

    Note that they did successfully protect all members of Congress, and that only one officer and one protester were killed due to use of violent force during the riot. So although some property was damaged, this was, in fact, a masterpiece of the “deescalation” politicians have been harping on for months. But, since the rioters here weren’t the anticipated marginalized, mostly peaceful protesters, police are now being criticized for not bashing heads and crushing the riot by lethal force. They are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. Does proper police procedure demand “deescalation” tactics, or not? Apparently Congress has now decided it does not.

      1. B. McLeod

        Today, the former chief of the Capitol Police is in the press, explaining how sensitivity over criticisms of the handling of the prior protests resulted in his requests for National Guard assistance for January 6 being repeatedly denied. I think this goes far to establish that a key reason the police response on January 6 was different was that they changed their tactical protocols due to political criticisms.

  8. Dave Landers

    In my nine years of reading SJ, and of course reading the back issues as implored to do so, this post has struck a chord as no other post has. This chord struck reverberates with sorrow.

    Has the national tenor changed and has a new epoch arrived? Has once what were vices have become the virtues of a new castrato society?

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