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Fact check: Meme inaccurately portrays police action at New York BLM protest

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A timeline of what happened when pro-Trump rioters stormed the US Capitol

The timeline breaks down the riot that took place at the U.S. Capitol, when a Pro-Trump mob stormed the building, sending members of Congress running.

States of America, USA TODAY

The claim: Police helped pro-Trump Capitol demonstrator and kicked in the head of a BLM bystander

Since the Capitol attack Jan. 6, many Americans highlighted anti-racism protests in 2020 to question whether there is a double standard in the way police responded to  demonstrators. One such meme zeroes in on police treatment of a Capitol trespasser compared with Martin Gugino, an anti-racism demonstrator. 

“Watching police holding the hands of an elderly Trump terrorist helping guide her down the stairs of the Capitol one at time and remembering footage of the old man bystander who had his head kicked in by police at BLM protest,” reads the meme The Other 98% shared and later removed.

The meme includes side-by-side images of police escorting a woman down the Capitol steps during the riot and Gugino lying injured on the pavement after police shoved him at an anti-racism protest in June. The meme attributes the statement to Twitter user Carly Kimmel.

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The Other 98% removed the meme, and its executive director and co-founder, John Sellers, responded to USA TODAY in an email:

“Of course you are correct that police didn’t literally kick his head in (which is a figure of speech). If they had kicked his head in he would be dead now,” Sellers wrote. “What police actually did is push him down, fracture his skull, and then offer him zero assistance as they marched by him in lock step.”

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The meme is still circulating on other social media accounts.

Kimmel tweeted the message Jan. 6. Her tweet went viral, receiving nearly 50,000 retweets, more than 900 quote tweets and more than 200,000 likes.

Kimmel did not respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment.                      

Fact check: Video shows Trump family in tent before rally Jan. 6

Police escort Trump supporter down Capitol stairs

During the Capitol riot, a police officer helped a woman in a Trump hat down the Capitol steps. The officer, dressed in riot gear, held a shield in one hand and the woman’s hand in another. It is unclear why the officer escorted her.

Atlanta NBC-affiliate television station WXIA-TV posted to YouTube a video of the incident filmed from another angle.

Social media users, including comedian Leslie Jones, posted home videos of a TVshowing coverage of the incident.

The identities of the officer and woman involved are unknown.

USA TODAY could find no evidence that police aided other demonstrators down the stairs.

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Police shoved elderly anti-racism protester

A 75-year-old Amherst, New York, resident became an unexpected focal point of the 2020 protest movement against police brutality. At an anti-racism protest in Buffalo on June 4, Gugino approached a line of police in riot gear and was pushed to the ground by an officer. Blood pooled under his head as he lay on the pavement. “He’s bleeding out of his ear,” a police officer said. Bystanders’ videos of the incident went viral soon after.

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Graphic: 75-year-old man suffers head injury after shoved by police

A 75-year-old man suffered a head injury and is in ‘stable but serious condition’ after he was shoved by police during a protest in Buffalo, New York.

USA TODAY, Storyful

Bystanders told the Democrat and Chronicle, a USA TODAY Network newspaper in Rochester, New York, that police called for medical help, which arrived within minutes.

Gugino spent a month in a hospital recovering from a brain injury and fractured skull.

The two officers responsible, Robert McCabe and Aaron Torgalski, were suspended without pay and charged with assault.

Police didn’t kick Gugino in the head as the meme claims.

Our ruling: Partly False

We rate the claim that police guided trespassing Trump supporters down the Capitol stairs and “kicked in” the head of an elderly activist as PARTLY FALSE because much, but not all, of the claim is supported by our research. It is true that media coverage shows a police officer helped a pro-Trump demonstrator down the steps of the Capitol on Jan. 6. And officers in Buffalo, New York, were charged with assault after shoving an elderly anti-racism protester, causing a head injury June 4.. But it is false to describe what happened to Martin Gugino at a Black Lives Matter protest as having “his head kicked in by police.”

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