As a leader in the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in St. Louis after the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown, Cori Bush was used to showing up at protests and seeing police, often fully deck out in riot gear, already waiting for them. Those memories came back to her as she watched videos of rioters, including one toting a Confederate flag, break into the U.S. Capitol on January 6th. “We knew at any moment we would be maced, pepper sprayed, tear gassed, rubber bullets would start flying,” Bush says. “But that’s not what happened that day.”
A newly-elected congresswoman representing St. Louis in the House of Representatives, Bush is now demanding answers from the Department of Justice about the “disparate treatment” of black protesters who demonstrated in defense of black lives this past summer, and the “white supremacist insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol Building” in January.
“We wouldn’t be able to scale the wall,” Bush tells Rolling Stone. “We couldn’t scale a wall to try to get in — we would have been shot down off of that wall.” In a letter addressed to Inspector General Michael Horowitz, Bush is asking the Department of Justice to release information that would illustrate the differences in treatment. She’s asking for any changes to Department of Justice policies, procedures, guidance about arrest and charging decisions for individuals involved in either demonstrations this summer or at the January 6th attack on the Capitol. Bush is also seeking information about how many people have faced federal charges for participating in Black Lives Matter protests since 2014, and whether they were held without bail.
The timing of Bush’s letter coincides with opening defense arguments from the lawyers representing President Trump on charges he incited the January 6th insurrection. Trump’s attorneys, as well as his boosters in Congress and in the right wing media, have sought to draw an equivalence between the rioters at the Capitol and the peaceful protesters who filled the streets this summer in the wake of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s deaths. Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican who represents Bush’s home state of Missouri, is among those who have drawn parallels between the two. Bush calls those efforts “disturbing.”
”I refuse to validate false equivalencies between an insurrectionist white supremacist attack on our nation’s capital and the movement to dismantle the systems of oppression that have been killing black people for centuries — we’re talking about life or death,” Bush says. “The insurrection at the Capitol, at its core, was a violent attempt to stop the counting of millions of black and brown and indigenous votes — those are the votes they didn’t want counted… This was an attack to oppress black and brown people, to discredit our democracy. This was an attack — and we have to call it exactly what it was.”
Bruce Castor, former President Trump’s lawyer, has said he intends to show footage of Democratic lawmakers using “inflammatory rhetoric” during this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests as part of his defense of Trump. “There’s a lot of tape of cities burning and courthouses being attacked and federal agents being assaulted by rioters in the streets, cheered on by Democrats throughout the country,” Castor told Laura Ingraham in an appearance on her show last Friday.
But the disparities between the way government officials approached the events are quite stark: according to a CNN analysis done in the immediate aftermath of the Capitol attack, 316 Black Lives Matter protesters were arrested by D.C. police on June 1 — the day Trump officials tear gassed peaceful protesters to clear a path to the then-president’s photo-op — compared with just 61 initially arrested on January 6th. That month, Trump signed an executive order instructing officials to “prosecute to the fullest extent permitted under federal law” anyone who vandalizes public property.
In her letter, Bush cites the treatment of two insurrectionists to illustrate the lenient treatment: “zip tie guy” Eric Muchel, the man allegedly photographed in a tactical vest and carrying a handful of flex cuffs in the Senate gallery, and Riley June Williams, accused of stealing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s laptop. Both were arrested, charged with multiple federal crimes, and released.
Authorities found flex cuffs and more than a dozen firearms — assault rifles, a sniper rifle with a tripod, shotguns and pistols and hundreds of rounds of ammunition — in Muchel’s home. According to a federal affidavit, Williams’ ex-boyfriend told the FBI she intended to send the computer “to a friend in Russia, who then planned to sell the device to SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service.” The laptop still has not been recovered.
In the letter, Bush writes, “The pretrial conditions used for the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol are rarely, if ever, used when Black protesters are in question. Too often, pretrial detention measures that aim to reduce the rate of incarceration, like bail, advantage wealthier individuals over the poor, and are used as a tool to incentivize guilty pleas.”
Bush says even before the Capitol riot, she planned to request information on DOJ’s treatment of protesters this summer. “As soon as I swore that oath, I was ready, not even knowing an insurrection was coming — this was something that was already on our minds as an office to do,” Bush says. But the events at the Capitol, and the treatment of the rioters, strengthened her resolved. During the BLM protests this summer, Bush says, “even in one day, hundreds were arrested. But with this situation [at the Capitol], people went home. People were able to go home! And now we’re going back looking at videos to see who did what.”
Read the letter: