When I saw the CNN headline about the heroism of police during the U.S. Capitol insurrection, I did a double take because I wasn’t sure I’d read it correctly.
“New radio and video footage from Capitol riot shows a coordinated attack and officers’ restraint,” it said.
In that moment, the anger I felt was visceral. While I will always have empathy for the Capitol officers who fought valiantly despite being betrayed by everyone from their police chief to America’s commander in chief, one question overshadows everything else: Would the police have shown such tremendous restraint if the Capitol Hill rioters were Black?
In my view, the answer is a resounding no. In a society where white life is seen as more valuable, everyone, even Black police officers under attack by a racist Capitol Hill mob, thinks twice before shooting at white people. Black people don’t get the same consideration.
That’s why, when Harvard researchers concluded a four-year study of police shootings, they found that Blacks, on average, were more than three times as likely as whites to be killed during a police encounter. That’s no accident. The value of white life is taught to every American — regardless of our race or ethnicity — from the time we are born.
The faces in our advertisements are overwhelmingly white, which is no surprise since as of 2019, only 0.7% of advertising and promotion managers were Black. Hollywood is white, too, just like nearly 71% of characters in the top films of 2017. And in case you have any doubt about how good whiteness is, remember what Megyn Kelly famously told us back in her Fox News days: “Santa just is white … Jesus was a white man, too.”
In America, such messages don’t have to be spoken. They are shown to us in every waking moment because American society is predicated on white supremacy.
That’s why, when Officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback sped over the grass in a Cleveland park and skidded to a stop just a few feet away from a 12-year-old Black boy playing with a toy gun, Loehmann was able to claim he had no time to think about it before shooting Tamir Rice in seconds.
In a written statement to investigators, Loehmann said he shot Tamir because he feared for his life. “I saw the weapon in his hands coming out of his waistband and the threat to my partner and myself was real and active.”
Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy McGinty agreed. He said that officers who must make “split-second” decisions when their lives are in danger get the legal benefit of the doubt.
Compare their story with that of D.C. Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone, who was beaten so badly by white Capitol rioters that he had a heart attack. Rioters actually said, “Kill him with his own gun!” while Fanone was being pummeled on the Capitol steps.
Fanone told CNN that he thought about using his gun, but thought better of it because he knew he would run out of bullets and the rioters would have the advantage again.
“So, the other option I thought of was to try to appeal to somebody’s humanity,” Fanone told CNN. “And I just remember yelling out that I have kids. And it seemed to work.”
Let me get this picture painted of American policing straight. When it’s a Black child, officers have to kill him because it’s a split-second decision and his humanity is not at issue. But when it’s a white mob that’s actually assaulting cops, there’s time to think about using a gun and time to appeal to their humanity.
There’s no question that CNN reporters reached the right conclusion when they said that the riot would have been more deadly if the police had used more force. But if officers can face a white mob and only shoot one person while losing one of their own, I don’t want to hear another cop say he had to shoot a Black person with a cell phone, or a Black child with a toy, or an unarmed Black woman in her home.
The restraint shown at the Capitol riot lets me know those excuses are lies.