D.C. Bill Would Require Study On How Police Respond To Different Types Of Protests The bill from At-Large Councilmember Robert White stems from what critics say were unequal police responses to the insurrection and racial justice protests.
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D.C. Bill Would Require Study On How Police Respond To Different Types Of Protests

Pro-Trump crowds march near the Capitol. Tyrone Turner/WAMU/DCist hide caption

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At-Large D.C. Councilmember Robert White introduced legislation Tuesday he says would help the city address bias within the Metropolitan Police Department by looking at how police responded to recent racial justice protests as well as the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

White said the bill is a direct response to the differences in the law enforcement response to rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and Black Lives Matter demonstrations in D.C. last summer, when hundreds of protesters were regularly arrested and charged.

If passed, the legislation would require that D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine's office conduct a study on the number of civilian injuries, arrests, fatalities, and officers deployed for all First Amendment demonstrations that took place between Jan. 2017 and Jan. 2021. Racine's office would also have to collect data on what types of weapons and riot gear were used in response to the demonstrations.

The study would determine whether MPD's response was different based on the race, religion, sex, national origin, or gender of those involved. The D.C. Council would then use that data to analyze and put into context the role bias might have played in MPD's assessment of threats and help guard the District from future threats like white supremacists and other extremists.

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"If you think that American terrorists won't do the same things as terrorist cells around the world, then we are very unprepared for what's on the horizon for the next year," White said. "For years, biased threat assessments have endangered people of color. On Jan. 6, though, biased threat assessments left the United States Capitol and the District of Columbia vulnerable to a deadly insurrection by homegrown extremists."

The bill, called the "Bias in Threat Assessments Evaluation Amendment Act of 2021," is co-sponsored by Ward 1's Brianne Nadeau, Ward 2's Brooke Pinto, Ward 3's Councilmember Mary Cheh, Ward 4's Janeese Lewis George, and At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman.

Activists and politicians have criticized the response from law enforcement to the insurrection, noting that at least one Capitol Police officer wore a MAGA hat during the riots in an apparent attempt to get rioters to escort officers out of the building, while others appeared to guide the mob or run away.

George, tweeting on the day of the insurrection, said: "Over the summer we saw federal law enforcement use tear gas, flash bangs, and rubber bullets on Black Lives Matter protesters without provocation. Where are the riot squads now? Are they standing down as white supremacists attempt a coup?"

If passed by the council and signed by Mayor Muriel Bowser, the legislation would require a report from Racine's office six months after the bill goes into effect. The bill would allow Racine to collaborate with outside legal and law enforcement research partners for the report. Racine's office said it is reviewing the measure.

White isn't alone in his push for addressing bias in local law enforcement agencies. MPD Acting Chief Robert Contee has called for background checks on all officers to determine whether they have ties to extremist groups or ideologies, according to the Washington Post. Contee wants to create policies that explicitly ban participation in hate groups and hire an outside firm to conduct and investigation into the department.

The pro-Trump mob that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 allegedly included off-duty law enforcement officers from other jurisdictions, the Post reported. The U.S. Capitol Police Department is actively investigating dozens of its members, and six have already been suspended with pay for their alleged involvement in the riots.

While D.C. police don't oversee the Capitol grounds, White sent a letter this week to Senator Gary Peters (D-Michigan) and Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi), chairmen of the Senate and House committees on homeland security, respectively, asking that they hold hearings on the impact of bias on national security threat assessments.

"Homegrown terrorism is often cloaked in constitutional freedoms such as freedom of speech and the right to assemble," White wrote. "As such, your work on preparedness and security of the Capitol will be incomplete if you do not examine bias in threat assessments. For communities of color, this assessment is long overdue."

This story is from DCist.com, the local news website of WAMU.

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