On the same day in February 2018 that would have been the 23rd birthday for Trayvon Martin, the unarmed teenager killed by George Zimmerman in 2014, Philadelphians woke to find their city vandalized. Overnight, downtown store windows had been shattered, countless traffic lights ripped from the ground, and cars flipped over. Did a Black Lives Matters protest turn violent?
Nah, it was just fans of the Philadelphia Eagles celebrating the previous night’s Superbowl victory.
Despite hundreds of people captured on surveillance video and social media appearing intoxicated and destroying property, including setting a fire and looting a gas station’s convenience store, only four people were arrested that night. For those familiar with the famously uncouth Philadelphia fan base- they once booed Santa- it was just Philly being Philly, as many pundits and analysts described the destruction as “rowdy” and “wild” fun.
It’s no secret that America has a double standard when it comes to policing. “If you’re white and your football team wins you can destroy your city, but if you’re black and cops killed your brother, you’re called a criminal if you protest,” someone posted online.
After the shocking and sad events at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, it appears the same is true for Trump supporters convinced by the president’s false claims of a stolen election. Hundreds of people easily rushed past submissive Capitol Police officers to ransack the U.S. Capitol, forcing members of Congress, Capitol employees and journalists, to shelter in place, and live-streamed themselves looting items from the Senate and House chambers.
The contrast between the police’s restraint on Capitol Hill and the excessive force used by militarized police on millions of Americans protesting police brutality over the summer is both jarring and infuriating. While protests following the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were marred by disproportionate violence and mass arrests by law enforcement, Trump’s mob entered the Capitol with little resistance even though Congress was holding a special joint session, presided by the Vice President. Video online even shows one officer taking a selfie with Trump supporters from inside the building.
The policing double standard is both racially motivated and ideological. Over 200 people protesting Trump’s inauguration in 2017 were arrested and faced charges of felony rioting, conspiracy to riot, and property destruction, though most charges were later dropped for lack of evidence. Capitol Police acted swiftly to forcibly arrest hundreds of sexual assault victims protesting Supreme Court nominees, and have zip-tied and dragged-out protesters with physical disabilities who came to voice opposition to proposed cuts to healthcare.
Members on both parties have used protests against police brutality and acts of violent extremism as excuses to crackdown on free speech and other protected First Amendment activities. In the coming weeks, elected officials will redirect the conversation away from the attack on the U.S. Capitol and call for more mass surveillance, restrictions on protests, and censorship. Speeches will be made about the need to allocate more funds to target domestic militias, but in reality, the FBI will continue to target the same left-leaning groups they always go after, and other law enforcement will use it to surveil and terrorize already marginalized communities, like they always do.
As we approach what now would have been Trayvon Martin’s 26th birthday next month, we can never forget that he was shot and killed because the neighborhood-watch thought he looked suspicious. Compare that to another teenager, Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old from Illinois who crossed state lines and shot three people protesting the police shooting of Jacob Blake. Even as he was carrying an AR-15 and witnesses to the incident identified him as the shooter, video from that night shows several police vehicles driving past Rittenhouse as if he was no threat. No one has to be told why.