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Comparing police reactions to Capitol rioters versus Black Lives Matter demonstrators

Two major gatherings in Washington, D.C. highlighted inconsistencies in law enforcement strategy. Here's how the reactions differed.

WASHINGTON — In June 2020, federal police tear-gassed and forced back a group of mostly peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters in Lafayette Park.

Then, in January 2021, a group of rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol building. Instead of pushing the demonstrators back, Capitol police capitulated to the group’s show of force and retreated to more secure areas of the complex. 

How was there such a notable difference in the preparation and deployment of law enforcement? 

Let’s break down and compare the two events.

On June 1, 2020, between 2,000 and 3,000 protesters gathered in Lafayette Park outside the White House to protest racial injustice. The gatherings were largely peaceful, with some moments of chaos and property destruction. 

Credit: Nathan Baca
A camera on a 15-foot boom pole captures the protest line at Lafayette Square Park Monday

In the days before, a fire had been set in the nearby nursery room of St. John’s Church, people sprayed graffiti on nearby buildings and threw non-lethal objects at police. In response, uniformed national guard members were deployed, and security forces were greatly increased. 

According to reporters at WUSA9 in Washington, D.C., in the days prior, park police in full riot gear had fired so many pepper balls into the crowd they needed a rush order to be resupplied. 

 At 6:30 p.m., federal officers used chemical irritants including tear gas, pepper spray, sting ball grenades, flash grenades, smoke canisters, rubber bullets, riot shields, batons and horse mounted officers to disperse the crowd and force them out of the park. 

National Guard helicopters flew overhead as anti-climb fencing was installed around the White House and the park, creating a barrier that still remains today.

RELATED: Feds considered using 'heat ray,' sound cannon on DC protesters, Report says

Compare that to the events of January 5, 2021 where between 5,000 and 10,000 pro-Trump protesters gathered to hear the president speak. 

Although several widely-shared social media posts show attendees were promoting plans of chaos and violence before arriving in D.C., and despite warnings from experts and journalists that potential violence may be imminent, police and security presence was kept to a minimum. 

Less than an hour later, as lawmakers began the process of confirming Joe Biden’s presidential victory, more than 1,000 protesters crossed the lightweight barriers and security checkpoints that surrounded the complex. 

Credit: AP
Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington. As Congress prepares to affirm President-elect Joe Biden's victory, thousands of people have gathered to show their support for President Donald Trump and his claims of election fraud. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Some rioters used chemical irritants on uniformed officers to gain access to the grounds. Soon, hundreds had breached the doors of the Capitol building itself, causing mass panic and evacuations of lawmakers from their chambers.

RELATED: VERIFY: Has the US Capitol ever been attacked before?

While there were scattered clashes with police, over 1,000 people walked freely through the halls of the Capitol building and surrounding grounds for several hours.

After the events of the day ended, one police officer had died along with four attendees, one of whom was shot by police as rioters tried to gain access to the House chamber. Law enforcement made a total of 52 arrests. 

In comparison, on June 1 at the Black Lives Matter protests, 289 people were arrested. 

So why the difference? 

There are lots of factors, and we still don’t know entirely what went wrong at the Capitol. Legal and policing experts suggest that different racial demographics of protesters is a major factor. 

Intelligence mistakes and influence from the president may have also played a role in the differing preparations and reactions.