Politics & Policy

D.C. Mayor Says Capitol Needed ‘More Robust’ Police Presence after Rejecting Federal Assistance Pre-Riot

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser speaks at a news conference in Washington, D.C., June 25, 2020. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

As the dust settled in the wake of pro-Trump rioters occupying the Capitol, D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser said Thursday that “what happened yesterday is textbook terrorism.” But Bowser is facing scrutiny for a Tuesday letter in which she told Justice Department and Pentagon leaders that the city would not need federal backup to handle protests.

Speaking Thursday, Bowser said that “obviously it was a failure or you would not have police lines breached,” adding that “there’s going to have to be a real investigation into what happened” — joining the calls from a number of lawmakers that have already raised questions over how the Capitol police handled the situation.

Bowser said that the Capitol police did not request additional police or guard before the protests, and that she does not have jurisdiction to send police or National Guard to Capitol Hill. “I think a more robust presence on the ground” would have maintained order, she explained. She placed blame for the inadequate law enforcement presence directly on the federal government and called on Congress to create a bipartisan commission to investigate the “catastrophic security failures.”

But on Tuesday, Bowser preemptively rebuffed federal reinforcements in a public letter to the Department of Justice, explaining that “the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) is prepared for this week’s First Amendment activities.”

“The protection of persons and property is our utmost concern and responsibility. MPD is well trained and prepared to lead the law enforcement, coordination and response,” the letter, addressed to Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy and acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, reads.

The letter explained that the MPD was coordinating with “its federal partners, namely the US Park Police, US Capitol Police and the US Secret Service,” and that 340 members of the D.C. National Guard had been activated to address the upcoming protests.

But Wednesday’s events — in which thousands of Trump supporters marched on the Capitol after being urged on by the president — show that law enforcement was woefully unprepared and undermanned.

In a statement released Thursday, Capitol police chief Steven Sund said that “the USCP is conducting a thorough review of this incident, security planning and policies and procedures.”

“The violent attack on the U.S. Capitol was unlike any I have ever experienced in my 30 years in law enforcement here in Washington, D.C.,” he stated. “Maintaining public safety in an open environment – specifically for First Amendment activities – has long been a challenge. The USCP had a robust plan established to address anticipated First Amendment activities.  But make no mistake – these mass riots were not First Amendment activities; they were criminal riotous behavior.”

Videos show that only a handful of officers were on hand to deal with a surging, angry crowd of thousands.

“Let’s go! F*** this s***. We pay your bills — you back the f*** off!” a man can be heard shouting through a bullhorn to the few officers at the initial barrier.

While MAGA marchers brawled with police — and tear gas, pepper spray, and flashbangs were used on the crowd with little effect — footage showing police taking selfies with those inside the Capitol and milling around as Trump supporters spilled into the complex cast doubt on their willingness to confront trespassers.

Additional National Guard troops were eventually deployed to quell the unrest, despite President Trump’s initial reluctance, per the New York Times and the Washington Post.

The Justice Department also called in agents from the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the U.S. Marshals Service to help reinstate law and order.

Bowser said that she had activated a mutual-aid agreement with several local police departments from nearby jurisdictions, and had requested backup from the Maryland, New Jersey, and Virginia state police.

She also said that “we must get statehood on the president’s desk within the first 100 days of there 117th Congress,” and asked Congress to “immediately transfer command” of the D.C. National Guard from Trump to herself. A seven-foot non-scalable fence will be erected around the Capitol building for at least 30 days, and over 6,000 National Guardsmen from D.C. and other states will be deployed to the city by the weekend.

MPD chief Robert Contee revealed that four people died, including a woman shot by law enforcement near the House Chamber, 68 arrests were made Wednesday, and 56 police officers were injured.

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