Disproportionate Police Response to U.S. Capitol Attack Another Example of Systemic Racism in United States

On January 6, 2021, the world witnessed a group of mostly white domestic terrorists storm the United States Capitol building and temporarily halt the certification of the electoral college results. While armed and volatile, hundreds of individuals from all over the country mobbed the Capitol building, where they were met with minimal resistance. The terrorist group was subsequently escorted off the premises with nominal repercussion and very little resistance, even while remaining in the Capitol grounds area well beyond city curfew. Law enforcement’s inadequate response to these atrocious actions is evidenced by few arrests that were made and their attempt to minimize harm to the insurgent group despite their volatility. These actions are further indicative of racial bias in policing, as excessive or lethal force is disproportionately used against Black individuals compared to whites in the U.S.

The lack of an effective police response to attacks at the U.S. Capitol reflects a gross double standard when compared with other recent police responses and tactics deployed for mass demonstrations. Over the past several years, we have seen Black Lives Matter activists met with overwhelming police force. Peaceful protestors fighting for their lives and their right to health care are cuffed and dragged away from their Congressional Representatives’ offices. Indigenous communities trying to preserve their land are attacked. In stark contrast to events at the Capitol, there were more than 10,000 arrests made during the George Floyd protests in 2020 and Washington, D.C. witnessed an overwhelming militarized police presence for days

This disproportionate police response is another example of systemic racism in American society and serves to highlight, yet again, how deeply engrained these values are within the fabric of American institutions. That the storming of the Capitol building was even possible is a manifestation of systemic racism in this country that impacts all aspects of people’s lives. What we witnessed on the Capitol grounds is merely one example of the detrimental impact prejudiced ideologies have had on communities of color well beyond policing tactics. In public health, we continue to struggle to reach communities most in need because of a lack of prioritization from governmental leadership, discriminatory policies across clinics and health departments, dismal community representation throughout decision-making processes, and a refusal to update epidemiological tools and language to better reflect those we are meant to serve.

The current COVID-19 pandemic along with decades of work towards ending HIV and viral hepatitis have exemplified the ways in which this systemic prejudice can manifest into life-threatening circumstances for communities of color in the United States and worldwide. A most recent example is that of Dr. Susan Moore, who reported discriminatory practices from a medical doctor in Indianapolis while being treated for COVID-19. Dr. Moore later died due to complications related to COVID-19 resulting from medical racism. Given that these pandemics continue to disproportionately impact communities of color, the very presence of individuals blatantly ignoring public health guidelines while vandalizing federal property without consequence represents a direct attack on those same communities.

In NASTAD’s June 2020 Black Lives Matter statement, the organization committed to:

“… actively work to dismantle systems of racism, discrimination, prejudice, health inequity, and stigma. We will continue to focus our work on addressing social determinants of health; we will continue to call on Congress to invest in public health infrastructure and ensure and expand safety nets; and we will continue to fight for accessible and equitable health care, housing, education, and employment.”

Today, we reaffirm our commitment to this difficult but crucial work. In less than two weeks, there will be a new administration and a new Congress. We pledge to hold them accountable to dismantling systemic racism in public health and across systems in the entire United States. The events in Washington, DC highlight the urgency of this work and compel us to immediately call to action governmental and non-governmental institutions in addressing systemic racism at its core.