When a pro-Trump mob attacked the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, surprisingly few police stood in the way. Protests had been expected for days, but police appeared unprepared for an actual insurrection and not even prepared to keep all the doors locked. Video showed police calmly talking with attackers after they moved into the building.
This came after a year of protests and confrontations with police after police shootings and other kinds of killings across the country. Many of those protests were put down more harshly, including those in Washington, D.C. Officials often responded with tear gas, Tasers or stun grenades.
“What we see here is that certain bodies are accorded a certain kind of treatment and other bodies are not,” said Eddie Glaude, the chair of Princeton University’s Department of African American studies, in an interview with NPR’s Morning Edition.
Glaude, who has written several books about race in the U.S., said that Wednesday’s violence at the Capitol demonstrated how “America is more comfortable with protest from the right than it is from the left.” Demonstrations from the left are often considered to represent “an existential threat to the country,” he said, whereas right-wing protests are taken “as a kind of patriotic gesture.”
Following are excerpts from the interview, edited for length and clarity.
What did you think about as you watched the video of the attack on the Capitol yesterday?
Well, you know, I thought that the nation stands on a knife’s edge in general. But more particularly, I ask myself the question: Who has the right to protest in this country? And what was very clear to me is that there is a sense in which some people who happen to be white are accorded the rights of citizenship and the right to dissent and others are expected to be grateful. And that was in clear view yesterday in terms of how the police responded to a mob insurrection, in effect.
What do you mean that it was in clear view yesterday?
You saw peaceful protest in Lafayette Square. You saw peaceful protests across the country over the summer after George Floyd’s murder. And what do we see in response? We saw tear gas. We saw rubber bullets. We saw the vitriol. We saw the aggression of police in responding to that peaceful protest.
… And here you have literally thousands of people rushing the people’s house, walking through the Capitol. In some instances, pacing, placing pipe bombs and other things around the Capitol. A woman was shot and then they just walked out, some of them. Right? And I could hear all across the country, at least on my Twitter feed, people just in amazement. Not that they wanted the police to be violent in their response, but it gave evidence to the fact that some people are accorded the benefit of the doubt, are given certain kinds of leeway or space, and other people are not.
And there is a case to be made for the policing that was done yesterday. Not that they allowed people into the building. But once it happened, to have a nonviolent response to it, to respond slowly, to respond carefully. But I think you’re telling me that in many other instances across the country, that is not how police responded at all.
We’ve said this before, in other instances. Dylann Roof can commit mass murder and he’s arrested and he’s alive. White men could wield knives and they’re arrested. We see training. We see patience and they are alive.
Black men and women end up dead. If they’re even in their homes, if they’re in their garages, if they’re playing with a pellet gun. A Black child is dead. And so what we see here is that certain bodies are accorded a certain kind of treatment and other bodies are not. … It seems to me that America is more comfortable with protest from the right than it is from the left.
What do you mean by that?
Ever since 1960s and the protests of the ’60s, the marches, the Black Power movement, there’s this sense that protests from the left represent an existential threat to the country. Protests from the right often is viewed as a kind of patriotic gesture, whether it’s [Ammon] Bundy and those folks defending their land or “against federal intrusion.” We can hear it over and over again. It’s almost as if we’re more comfortable with the right and that right that tends toward the fascism, tends toward a kind of white nationalism than we are with those that we often want to associate with socialism.
Did you find this assault on the Capitol yesterday actually to be an existential threat to the country?
Absolutely. I’ve been arguing over and over again for the last four years that Donald Trump represented an existential threat to the republic. And what he’s done, he’s weaponized an insidious feature of American life, and that is that you have greed and grievance, racism and resentment, hubris and hatred animating a large portion of this country. And you had a politician who weaponized it, who leveraged it for his own ends. … We saw Americans taking down the American flag, attempting to take down the American flag to replace it with a Trump flag. If that isn’t an existential threat, I’m not sure what is.
What would you have the incoming president, Joe Biden, do about this? Suppose we get through the next 13 days, we get to another administration with a badly divided country. How would you approach this problem?
Well, the first thing I think the Biden-Harris administration must do is to execute the law. They need to prosecute these people to the fullest extent of the law. … If no one is held accountable after this insurrectionary act, we will doom ourselves to having to deal with this again. We’ve been coddling this element since our birth as a nation. And it has threatened to overwhelm our democracy ever since. We finally need to uproot this if we’re going to get beyond it.