I’ve worked on defense and security in Latin America for a long time, which colored my view of what happened in the Capitol yesterday.
As soon as we all saw rioters start calmly parading through the Capitol, I was immediately struck by our security forces’ slow and tolerant response. Starting with some of the Capitol Police (though others performed bravely), and continuing with the incredible lack of backup they received.
20 years after 9/11, of course the Capitol Police and other authorities have the resources, and off-the-shelf plans, for dealing with a situation just like this in a professional, efficient, rights-respecting way. I’m sure they’ve had drills and exercises. Why were those plans plainly ignored? Why did it all fall apart for a group of only a couple thousand people maximum?
Anybody who has paid attention to Latin America knows what a dangerous politicization of security forces looks like. We also saw it—in the other direction—with federal law enforcement in Portland and at Washington’s BLM protests.
Some cops at the Capitol yesterday seem to have felt some kinship with the pro-Trump mob, and treated them way differently than they do peaceful Trump critics and people of color. And their management was plainly politicized in its failure to prepare for a contingency we all saw coming, and its subsequent failure to rush help to the scene.
You don’t get to ransack the Capitol for hours, then calmly walk away, unless law enforcement and its command share your views. What we saw yesterday was tacit approval of the rioters. Full stop.
Let’s stare that directly in the face, then do our best after January 20 to get it investigated, punished, and reformed so it never happens again. Let’s find out if that’s even possible to do in America in 2021.
This non-response looked familiar to anyone who has studied Latin America’s militaries and police during times of transition to and from democracy. To me, it was the big story of yesterday, and it’s terrifying.