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Lesson Plans

Classroom Resource: Police response at the Capitol raises issues of ‘white privilege’

January 8, 2021

Full Lesson



Directions: Watch the short video clip featuring reporting by Amna Nawaz, read the summary and answer the discussion questions. A transcript of the video is available here.

Summary: The treatment of the violent mob at the Capitol by law enforcement versus the heavy-handed tactics employed on peaceful protests over racial justice has been widely talked about since Wednesday. Amna Nawaz spoke with Ibram X. Kendi, director of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University, to learn more.

  • Very few rioters who broke into the Capitol were detained or arrested while the break-in was in progress. Most who entered the Capitol building were allowed to leave when they chose to do so. Reportedly, 26 were arrested on Capitol grounds out of the hundreds that stormed the Capitol.
  • The Capitol police present during the attack may have been too few to reasonably hold back the hundreds of protesters, but it is still unclear why authorities weren’t better prepared for the attack, which had been publicly planned for weeks, or why some Capitol police cooperated with the attackers, including allowing access to the building in some cases.
  • Many critics have noted the stark difference with the way police in other jurisdictions have treated protesters, including the hundreds of arrests during peaceful protests near the White House (which saw no similar attempted attack to the Capitol) this summer.
  • According to Prof. Ibram X. Kendi, the initial response to the attack, which was publicly announced on social media and elsewhere well in advance, reflects a history in the United States of white nationalists who commit acts of terror not being held accountable.


Warm up questions: 

  1. What happened on Jan. 6, and in what ways is it similar and different from protests such as Black Lives Matter protests that took place this summer?
  2. Who was involved in the attack on the Capitol?
  3. Why does Kendi draw a distinction between the response to the attack on the Capitol and response to protests this summer?
  4. When and where were protesters been met with arrests and violence by police in 2020?
  5. How does the episode on January 6 suggest “white privilege” according to Kendi?

Focus questions:

  1. What do you think are some reasons security authorities were unprepared for an attack on the Capitol building by the crowd that had been openly and publicly organizing for that purpose for weeks?
  2. What can everyday citizens do to preserve the right to peacefully protest?
  3. Do you think the politicians and other powerful figures including President Trump who encouraged the march on the Capitol should be held accountable? If so, how?

Media literacy: Examine this photo essay put together by NewsHour’s Dan Cooney and Isabella Isaacs-Thomas to examine who assault on the Capitol on January 6.

  • What image or identity do you think the participants were trying to project?
  • What story about them do the photos tell that words alone cannot?
  • What part of the story do the photos leave out?

Additional resources: 

  • For our lesson on the events and their immediate aftermath, click here.
  • For historical perspective, examine the photo below. Then read this article by Clint Smith in The Atlantic and answer the following:
    1. What is the flag that appears in this photo and what does it represent? Why do you think this man brought the flag into the Capitol?
    2. Who are the men depicted in the painting and statue behind the man with the flag?
    3. How do the politics of today reflect the politics of the Civil War and post-war Reconstruction period? How are they different?

A supporter of President Donald Trump carries a Confederate battle flag on the second floor of the U.S. Capitol near the entrance to the Senate after breaching security defenses, in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2021. REUTERS/Mike Theiler TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY


For additional resources, see WETA’s Colorin Colorado page “Discussing political violence with ELLs, immigrants, and refugees” here.

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