As the investigation into last week's riots in the US Capitol continues, one thing has become clear: the individuals involved were not just "fringe" elements separated from mainstream society.
Prominent among the rioters was a group with many institutional and social forces – police officers and other law enforcement officers. In fact, nearly 30 sworn officers have been identified so far Participants in the rally that led to the uprising on Wednesday, according to the NPR.
These include Virginia Police Officer Thomas "T.J." Robertson, who was arrested this week in connection with the riot. "CNN and the left are just insane because we actually attacked the government that is the problem, and not some random small business," Robertson reportedly wrote on Facebook after storming the Capitol.
Those arrested also include his colleague Jacob Fracker, a Virginia police officer and a sergeant in the state's National Guard. "Lol to everyone who may be concerned about the picture of me," Fracker apparently wrote on Facebook. "Not like I did anything illegal."
* 2 off duty Virginia officers charged with rioting in the Capitol.
* Jacob Fracker & Thomas Robertson are charged with forced entry, disorderly behavior and being in a restricted building.
* Fracker is a NCO in the National Guard; 1. Service member charged https://t.co/R2SWOuW9kZ pic.twitter.com/KRWxl55yfc
– Jim Roberts (@nycjim) January 15, 2021
The explanations are bold – the civil servants' disregard for the law issued, although compliance with this law is supposed to be their task. Yet it should come as no surprise that law enforcement officials participated in the riot. After all, it was an uprising on behalf of a president who made racism and xenophobia at the core of his government and who repeatedly fanned the flames of white nationalism. In addition, the election results should be turned upside down to maintain a misrepresentation of electoral fraud that sought to overturn the votes of thousands of black Americans.
In essence, storming the Capitol was a riot to maintain white supremacy. And maintaining and supporting white supremacy has long been part of the task of police officers.
After the end of slavery, the police forces played a key role in promoting mass incarceration and the essential arming of the idea of black crime, as historian Khalil Muhammad Vox explained last summer. In addition to strengthening the principles of white supremacy as part of their job, police officers were often personally part of white supremacy groups. As historian Linda Gordon notes, police and other law enforcement officers made up a large part of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s.
While it may be annoying to many to see cops as part of a riot that wanted to overthrow American democracy – and that left one policeman dead – it shouldn't come as a shock that law enforcement officials might support the white supremacist ideology behind the insurrection. This ideology was intertwined with police work from the start.
Officials from across the country are being investigated and charged after the riot
Over the past few days, reports from law enforcement officers present at the riot have increased. These are some of the officers who are said to have been present that day:
Robertson, a police officer in Rocky Mount, Virginia, is facing federal charges, including violent entry and disorderly behavior. He and Fracker posed for a photo in front of a statue in the Capitol and made "obscene gestures," according to CNBC. He later said he was "proud" of the photo because he was "ready to bring skin into play". Robertson also says that the Capitol Police allowed him to enter the building: “I went through an open door that was guarded by two Capitol police officers, got a bottle of water from them and was asked to stay in a rope area, which we did have also done. "
In addition to being a police officer, Fracker is the first known active duty soldier to be charged in the Capitol Riot, according to CNBC. Like Robertson, he is charged with violent entry and disorderly conduct. Both the Virginia National Guard and Rocky Mount Police are investigating.
Tam Pham, a Houston police officer for 18 years, resigned this week after being identified in the riot. He was seen in photos with a Trump flag in the Capitol and is currently under investigation by the federal government, according to NPR.
Roxanne Mathai, a lieutenant sheriff in Bexar County, Texas, posted photos of herself on a Capitol balcony Wednesday, calling it "the best day of her life," according to NPR. She has unpaid administrative leave.
According to the ABC, at least two Seattle police officers are on vacation and are being investigated for reports of their involvement in the rally. Meanwhile, the resignation of Mike Solan, president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, is called for after he said the "far left" was partially responsible for the uprising.
According to WHYY, seven transit officers from the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority in Philadelphia are under investigation after attending the rally that ended with the riot on Wednesday. "They are being investigated to see if they were involved in seditious behavior or violations of our social media guidelines," said SEPTA transit police chief Thomas Nestel this week.
The investigation is likely to continue in the coming weeks and months, and none of the above officials have been convicted of a crime related to the riot.
As the nation processes the events of the past week, it is crucial to recognize the role of the police Defending White Supremacy Throughout American History.
In the post-Civil War South, law enforcement became a tool to keep black Americans de facto in slavery as they might be forced to work as a punishment for a crime. "All expressions of black freedom, political rights, economic rights and social rights were then prosecuted," Muhammad told Vox. “Whites could accuse blacks who wanted to vote to be criminals. People who wanted to negotiate fair employment contracts could be defined as criminals. And the only thing that wasn't criminalized was submission to a white landowner to work on their land. "
While black Americans were criminalized and forced to work in the south, the police also served as enforcers of white domination in northern cities, Muhammad told Vox. In the south, he declared, “A white man could really shoot a black man or woman in the middle of the street and get away with it. In the north, that was less likely – what was more likely was that a white resident simply called the police. "
And the police not only arrested black Americans, which led to their imprisonment – they also participated in mob violence against black people. For example, in 1919 black Chicago residents rose to protest the fatal stoning of Eugene Scott, a 17-year-old black boy. White residents attacked them and police joined a commission investigating the violence that was later discovered. "When police officers had a choice of protecting black people from violence by white mobs, they chose to either help and support white mobs, or disarm or arrest black people," said Muhammad.
In addition to maintaining racist violence and mass detention while at work, the police were also present in white nationalist groups. In the 1920s, "the police or other law and order officers, such as the sheriff's deputy, were probably the largest professional group in the clan," Gordon told Vox. And while we don't know the specific affiliations of the officers under investigation for their role last Wednesday, it should come as no surprise to see the police at a rally alongside white nationalists, or at the same time seeing the flags of the police's “blue thing” event with flags the Confederate and other racist symbols.
"White supremacy has really crept into the police force," Sabrina Karim, a professor of government at Cornell University who studies global policing, told Vox earlier this week. And to a significant extent it was there from the start.
This was made all the more apparent last summer when Americans saw the brutal murder of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, by police in Minneapolis on video. It became even clearer when this killing led to protests against racial justice across the country, and Police and other police officers in cities across America responded with brutal violence – in stark contrast to the treatment of largely white, right-wing anti-mask protesters in Michigan last spring who were allowed to enter the statehouse with weapons, for example. As Fabiola Cineas of Vox found, research shows that between May and November law enforcement agencies use violence against liberal demonstrations more than twice as often as against right-wing extremist rallies.
This contrast was made even clearer during the Capitol Uprising, when Capitol police officers on duty appeared to be pushing barricades aside to allow the rioters to approach the convention halls – one officer even posed for a selfie with one of the insurgents. There were likely many reasons for the catastrophic security failure that led to the Capitol invasion on Wednesday, but an affinity between some of the police on duty and the rioters was likely among them. "There was a degree of complicity, not among all police officers or law enforcement officers, but among some," Karim said.
And now the fact that there were police officers on duty Active participation in the rally, which aims to overthrow the election – and remove the votes of thousands of black voters – is the latest reminder of the deep connection between policing and white supremacy.
Some have expressed horror at the thought that law enforcement officers might have been involved in the storming of the Capitol. "There is no excuse for criminal activity, especially by a police officer," Houston police chief Art Acevedo said in a statement on Pham's resignation.
But for decades the police force in America has had the power to define criminal activity, and has often exercised that power against black Americans, sometimes with fatal consequences. They were also a central part of the white supremacist groups who wanted to demonize immigrants and people of color. And any response to the Capitol uprising and the greater forces of white supremacy in America must face this reality.
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