Wednesday, January 6, 2021, was a historic day in the US.
It could have been historic because the US Congress was voting to certify an election. That happens every four years. Most of the time, it’s with little fanfare, but this time was bound to be different.
It wasn’t even historic because of the several Senators and Congresspeople that were planning to dissent in the vote. That felt like par for the course of this election cycle.
It was historic because a mob was allowed to breach the doors of the Capitol building, resulting in death, property damage, and the delay of the business of government.
There were several failures that led to the moment when the riot breached the door, but one of the biggest failures was the risk management failure outside the capital on that day.
Who was (or should be) in charge of managing the risks at the Capital?
According to the US Senate’s and US House of Representatives’ websites, the Sergeant at Arms is the Chief Law Enforcement Officer of their house of congress. Part of their responsibilities is the safety and security of congress. Since safety and security are included in these job titles, that puts the assessment of risk in their hands. Additionally, the DC Metro Police Department is the body that deals with ensuring that protests and demonstrations are conducted safely and lawfully.
Should they have seen this coming?
You might say that this is Monday morning quarterbacking, and you would be right. There is much more than all of us can see now that the incident is passed than could be seen by many of us before. However, this event should have been viewed far differently than it was. A person doesn’t get elected to the Sergeant at Arms position or hired as the chief of police of a major US city, let alone the capital of the United States, without extensive law enforcement experience and a resume that shines in the light of the sun.
These officers are career law enforcement officials and they should have known that something big could happen. Police officers have a reputation of suspecting trouble, even when no trouble obviously exists. Why didn’t these seasoned law enforcement officers think that there could be more than meets the eye with this demonstration? Did they have a gut instinct that said that things could go wrong? Did they ignore that instinct because they couldn’t put facts with their instincts? Did they simply believe that no one would possibly ever try what happened simply because no one had?
There are several reasons that they should have known that something could happen.
- Groups are required to file for permits for public demonstrations. A demonstration outside of the Congress building when Congress is in session should be a big enough deal that the Chief of Police should know about it and should make the Sergeant at Arms aware of it. They should have had a conversation about the potential risks that this demonstration posed. I don’t know that they didn’t have that conversation, but based on their mutual level of preparedness, they didn’t seem to talk about it much.
- From what we are told about this group, they were gathering in support of the sitting President to object to what has been characterized as the theft of an election. The idea that a group of people were coming to protest something that they considered to be a miscarriage of the election system should have indicated that this could get out of hand. It is not a stretch to imagine that this group could show up in a heightened emotional state, or that there might be people inside the group who intended to do more than just demonstrate.
- The group held a rally beforehand where the President spoke. Given the President’s history with his public comments, including his pattern of rhetoric, someone should have realized that his comments could create actions. This group was particularly interested in the President remaining in office and it’s reasonable to think that after a rousing speech, someone among them might be inclined to take matters into their own hands.
- It has been reported that days before the rally turned into a riot both the FBI and Department of Defense offered to support the DC Police in securing the Capital Building. The DoD and Justice Department both have resources that would give them better information than the DC Metro Police would have. It would seem reasonable that the chief should have known that something bigger might happen than simply a free speech demonstration at that location.
I’m a fan of free speech. I even like it when people disagree with me. At the very least, when someone disagrees with me, it forces me to think about and consider their position. When disagreement turns into violence, that’s not protected speech. That’s insurrection. That’s not even a legitimate revolution. That’s the path of anarchy.
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