Stanford Graduate School of Business

Protesting While White Nationalist: What if They’d Been Black?

Sarah A. Soule
Christian Davenport

Newswise — Throughout the world, people have reflected on the events of January 6, 2021 in the U.S. Capitol. Whether we call this a march, riot, insurrection, mob, or failed coup, we all watched in stunning disbelief as an important component of U.S. democracy teetered on the edge of destruction. We also watched as U.S. Capitol police appeared to let rioters through barricades, begged protesters to disperse with words (not weaponry), and took selfies with members of the mob who forced their way into the Capitol Building and sullied historically sacred spaces. 

As scholars of protest policing, we ask people to engage in the following thought experiment: if the crowd were composed of Black people, would it have been policed differently? Our research shows that historically, Black protesters are treated very differently, even when behaving in the same manner as white protesters. We recently noted that this trend seemed also to be the case during the BLM protests of 2020. It is clear to us and many others (including President Elect Joe Biden) that if the chaotic mob at the Capitol on January 6 were composed of Black people behaving in the same way, the police would not have tolerated it. The outcome quite likely would have been a massacre. 

As scholars of protest policing, we recognize that this thought experiment is one that Black protesters engage in every time they protest. This is because they have learned what we show in our research: Black protest is perceived as being especially threatening to authorities. And, we believe that we need a system that protects the rights of all who engage in lawfully respectful democratic activity -- not just white nationalist ones. 

How do we get there?  In order to address the problem of differential policing of protest, we suggest starting with three core issues.  

First, and perhaps most fundamental, we must recognize that what we saw on January 6 is a manifestation of white privilege.  The behavior exhibited by members of the mob reveals not ignorance but empowerment and entitlement that Black protesters would never claim.  Many of the people who rioted in the Capitol on January 6 felt they had the right to do so, despite not having a permit. "This is our house," claimed one insurrectionist, as others scaled walls, broke windows, and threatened elected officials and those paid to protect them. There is no clearer manifestation of differential policing, discrimination, systemic racism, and white privilege than this uncomfortable and profound observation. The sooner we, as a nation, come to terms with the effects of systemic racism, the sooner we will be able to heal. For those looking for a starting place, we suggest starting here

Second, we need more transparency into the law enforcement apparatus. For example, it was not clear who was responsible for doing what at the Capitol on January 6.  There are approximately 27 law enforcement agencies with overlapping jurisdiction in Washington, D.C., but which of these had jurisdiction? What kind of training does each of these law enforcement agencies receive, and specifically do they receive training on how to handle coup-attempts? Anti-bias training? When Capitol police were overwhelmed, who should and who could have stepped in?  Should Capitol police be empowered to turn away support (for example, from the Maryland National Guard)?  While the events of January 6 shine a light on an extreme example, similar issues about a lack of transparency in protest policing exist throughout the country.  These issues need to be addressed, as they were following the violent protests of the 1960s in the Kerner Commission Report.  

Third, there needs to be a national conversation about the appropriate level of law enforcement response to civilian activities that threaten political individuals, institutions and/or practices.  One of us has done some research on this topic, but this is a question that should be placed before every American citizen, including members of law enforcement and politicians. With this information, we could then have an actual conversation about what we believe is appropriate, and with this information, we could effectively devise a way forward to a more equitable treatment of all protesters, not just white nationalist ones. 

It is clear that we, as a nation, have our work cut out. But the events of January 6 should galvanize all of us to continue the work that many of us started in the summer of 2020. That is, we should all return to our work of understanding systemic racism in our country, learning more about law enforcement, and discussing how democracy should operate. While the events of January 6 are shocking and disturbing, we should consider them a call to action to return to the work that we started in summer 2020.

Filters close

Showing results

110 of 6049
Released: 27-Jul-2021 12:05 PM EDT
Government Law Center Releases New Explainer on NY Redistricting
Albany Law School

The Government Law Center at Albany Law School has just released its latest explainer to help attorneys, politicians, and the public at large understand the complexities of New York’s redistricting process.

Released: 26-Jul-2021 12:40 PM EDT
GW Politics Poll Finds Varying Confidence in State and Local Elections
George Washington University

Democratic voters continue to have more faith in state and local elections than Republicans, according to new data from the George Washington University Politics Poll.

Newswise: Radiation Oncologists Urge Congress to Reverse Proposed CMS Cuts and Create More Equity in Access to Cancer Treatments
Released: 26-Jul-2021 11:30 AM EDT
Radiation Oncologists Urge Congress to Reverse Proposed CMS Cuts and Create More Equity in Access to Cancer Treatments
American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO)

A record number of radiation oncologists met with Congressional leaders and staff last week as part of the largest American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) Advocacy Day in the Society's history. The physicians urged Congressional leaders to intervene in response to consecutive Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) proposals that call for significant cuts to radiation oncology facilities.

Newswise:Video Embedded newswise-expert-panels-on-covid-19-pandemic-notable-excerpts-quotes-and-videos-available
Released: 26-Jul-2021 10:00 AM EDT
Newswise Expert Panels on COVID-19 Pandemic: Notable excerpts, quotes and videos available

Newswise is hosting a series of Expert Panels discussion on unique aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic. This tip sheet includes some notable quotes from the panelists.

22-Jul-2021 8:00 AM EDT
National Poll: Parents Split on Whether to Vaccinate Younger Kids Against COVID
Michigan Medicine - University of Michigan

Many parents are missing opportunities to discuss questions and concerns about the COVID vaccine for kids with a doctor.

Released: 20-Jul-2021 4:30 PM EDT
Small-Scale Worker Resistance Impacts Food Delivery Economy in China
Cornell University

Research from Cornell University has revealed a new form of bargaining power among Chinese platform-based food delivery workers, who conduct invisible mini-strikes by logging out of apps and airing grievances over.

Released: 15-Jul-2021 1:10 PM EDT
Even on Facebook, COVID-19 Polarized Members of U.S. Congress
Ohio State University

Facebook posts by members of the U.S. Congress reveal the depth of the partisan divide over the COVID-19 pandemic, new research shows.

Showing results

110 of 6049