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.
.@KamalaHarris: "We witnessed two systems of justice when we saw one that let extremists storm the United States Capitol, and another that released tear gas on peaceful protesters last summer…We know this is unacceptable. We know we should be better than this." pic.twitter.com/Uc1FC8aZKg
— CSPAN (@cspan) January 7, 2021
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.