January 6

Capitol Police Failed To Contain a Riot, Then Killed a Woman in the Chaos

Yesterday's events at the Capitol building should be understood as a colossal law enforcement failure.

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The Capitol Police are coming under well-deserved scrutiny after they failed to prevent rioters from storming the Capitol building yesterday, then killed an unarmed woman who joined the break-in.

"I think it's pretty clear that there's going to be a number of people who are going to be without employment very, very soon," said Rep. Tim Ryan (D–Ohio), the lead House appropriator for Capitol Police, on a conference call with reporters yesterday. "This is the U.S. Capitol building with the House and the Senate in session. We knew. Donald Trump signaled this. There was enough time to prepare."

The House's sergeant-at-arms has already resigned. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.) is demanding the resignation of Capitol Hill Police Chief Steve Sund. Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.), soon to be the Senate majority leader, says he'll fire the Senate's sergeant-at-arms when his party takes over that chamber.

The Wall Street Journal reports that federal authorities made a deliberate decision to maintain a light police presence on the ground yesterday in an effort not to escalate tensions and to avoid the unsavory optics of riot police on the Capitol steps.

As it turned out, the crowd needed no help in escalating things: The small number of Capitol Police on the scene were easily overwhelmed when things turned violent. Worse still, that initial light-touch approach to security didn't even manage to contain police violence. Videos from yesterday show obviously panicked and overwhelmed officers punching protestors from behind skimpy metal barricades.

During the chaos that followed, as rioters broke into congressional offices, one Capitol Police officer fatally shot Ashli E. Babbitt, a 35-year-old Air Force veteran. Three other people died after experiencing unspecified "medical emergencies," according to D.C. police.

It took about four hours for police to regain control of the Capitol building, with the D.C. National Guard and state police from Maryland and Virgina dispatched as reinforcements.

Yesterday's riot is drawing lots of comparisons to the violence that accompanied the George Floyd protests last year. It's interesting to note that law enforcement failed during those protests in a strikingly similar, if chronologically reversed, way. In Minneapolis, the police killed George Floyd and then failed to contain the riots that followed. In D.C., police failed to contain a riot and then ended up killing an unarmed person. (Both events also saw police arrest reporters on camera.)

It goes without saying that police are given a very hard job in these kinds of circumstances. They are tasked with protecting people's First Amendment rights to protest and preserving others' rights to not have their persons and property assaulted by violent demonstrators.

But just because that balance can be hard to achieve doesn't mean we should stop demanding it.