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Civil Rights Groups Call for Investigation of Attack on Capitol

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Civil-rights advocates point out that police regularly confront social-justice demonstrations with militarized force. (saksuvan/Adobe Stock)
Civil-rights advocates point out that police regularly confront social-justice demonstrations with militarized force. (saksuvan/Adobe Stock)
January 8, 2021

NEW YORK - Civil-rights advocates say the police response to a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump was in stark contrast to responses to peaceful civil-rights protests.

Pro-Trump rioters easily breached barricades and forced their way into the Capitol building itself on Wednesday, ransacking offices with impunity for hours before being forced to leave the building.

Reports have said the rioters got inside because U.S. Capitol police were outnumbered and overwhelmed.

But according to Mara Verheyden-Hilliard - constitutional rights attorney and cofounder of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund and the Center for Protest Law and Litigation - peaceful civil-rights protests have been confronted by massive, and often violent police response.

"When confronted with an actually violent mob that they knew was coming, they fell back," said Verheyden-Hilliard. "They did little to try and stop them from entering."

Chief Steven Sund, head of the Capitol Police, has defended the response, saying officers "acted valiantly when faced with thousands of individuals involved in violent riotous acts."

Video from inside the Capitol does show rioters violently confronting police, who do appear to be overwhelmed. But Verheyden-Hilliard pointed out that other videos tell another story.

"There's a lot of images circulating now that show police taking selfies with the white supremacists who entered the Capitol, who besieged it," said Verheyden-Hilliard, "and them opening up and very calmly stepping back from barricades."

She added that Capitol police have dressed in full riot gear to confront peaceful antiwar and civil-rights protests but wore "soft" uniforms as thousands of violent rioters approached.

Verheyden-Hilliard noted that federal prosecutors and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are convening grand juries to pursue federal riot charges against racial-justice demonstrators, while rioters who stormed the Capitol were allowed to walk away.

"It demonstrates the falsity of the criminal-justice system," said Verheyden-Hilliard, "because it makes it clear that they are using these laws to target the social justice movement and it has nothing to do with law and order."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called for Sund to resign, and late Thursday it was announced that the chief would leave his post January 16.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY