Moore: Don't Wall Off the Capitol

The Capitol riot was a policing failure, not an architectural flaw.

by Chelsea Moore | 2/22/21 2:00am

Lawmakers and law enforcement officials are still grappling with the effects of the Jan. 6 seige of the Capitol, an event which highlighted a number of security failures at the Capitol building. Besides the non-scalable fencing which was recently erected around the building, there are now calls to install a seven-foot wall around the Capitol grounds. This reaction is a mistake and misses the point — we should be analyzing the police’s response instead.

Following the storming of the Capitol building, then Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy revealed the military’s plan to erect an impenetrable barrier around the seat of government for at least 30 days. Yogananda Pittman, the acting Capitol Police chief, echoed the need for improvements, saying that “vast improvements to the physical security infrastructure must be made to include permanent fencing.” 

These plans seem to blatantly ignore the Capitol building’s symbolic nature as the heart of American democracy. The Capitol stands as the nation’s center of power and prosperity: of the people, by the people and for the people. The building’s grounds are intertwined with Washington, D.C.’s history and public recreation sites. But, most importantly, the Capitol has been the tangible manifestation of the idea that democratic governance is an integral part of American life, not something separate from society. 

But what if there now stands a literal divide separating the public from the government?

After the Capitol siege, fencing was hastily installed around the Capitol and surrounding congressional buildings. The “wall” entailed a tall black barrier looped with razor wire and patrolled by armed troops. Besides acting as a tangible separation between the public and those holding political power, it has transformed this mighty center of democracy into a symbol of the nation’s fears. 

Building walls should not be our first solution to security concerns — whether that wall is around the Capitol or on our southern border, walls divide and suppress. What America really needs is reconciliation.

Instead of a barrier, the deployment of an adequate number of National Guard troops and police officers could effectively protect members of Congress. The Jan. 6 attack could have been prevented, or at least better mitigated, in this way, and similar future threats should be met in the same manner. 

According to McCarthy, city officials did not ask the Pentagon for military assistance until after the mob had broken through the police security cordon around the Capitol. Unlike the police response to the mostly peaceful Black Lives Matter protests this summer, the mob of Donald Trump’s supporters faced relatively little resistance from the police. They were easily able to storm the building, presenting danger to everyone inside. Further action, such as the deployment of the National Guard, was not taken until several hours after the rioters breached the building. 

Instead of fencing, Capitol security should focus on a better-planned presence of security personnel. The Capitol, while still kept safe, must be restored as a symbol of accessible American democracy. Building more walls is the wrong way to do that.