SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – The violent and destructive riots at the U.S. Capitol Wednesday left Americans feeling a wide variety of emotions. Two days after the security breach that left five people dead, including one police officer, the country is still grappling with how these events unfolded and its implications about the underlying problems that still exist.
As Congress convened for the electoral college vote certification for Joe Biden, a mob of rioters who supported President Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election stormed the U.S. Capitol.
This prompted the building to be locked down, lawmakers to duck for cover, journalists to evacuate, and cities to enact curfews. The rioters damaged and occupied several parts of the building for hours. A number of political leaders and experts said comments made by Trump and his allies at a rally earlier in the day incited the riots.
“Wednesday was a watershed date in American history. To see the confederate flag flying in the U.S. Capitol in 2021 and one of the Capitol Hill police officers take a selfie with one of the rioters, it left me speechless,” said Prof. Amos Guiora of the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah.
With two decades of experience in counter-terrorism, Prof. Guiora said the security breach was a result of a lack of preparation and failure to recognize red flags from law enforcement.
“It’s an overwhelming failure because the President, over the last week or two, has circled January 6th as the red-lettered date, the call to duty. We’ve even seen the clips of Utah, participants on their way to D.C harassing Senator Romney at the airport. There was no surprise here. The fact that the Capitol Police were as unprepared as they were, it is stunning, which is a polite word I’m using,” he said.
Chris Burbank, former Chief of the Salt Lake City Police Department and current Vice President for the Center for Policing Equity agreed.
“This was known to everybody in the nation. The President tweeted about this numerous times. Even prior to, the hours before, there was no question where this mob was headed. Why was there no preparation or perimeter set up to prohibit them from even coming close?” said Burbank.
Prof. Guiora called Wednesday’s riots, ‘domestic terrorism’ and said that the events should be a big wake up call to federal security officials.
“I saw there are calls to have various people fired. That’s easy. The more important question is whether or not the FBI, local police, or federal law enforcement understand that these groups are here to stay. Does that mean we need to re-articulate how we define the threat to America? The answer to that is yes,” he said.
He added, “There needs to be a clear understanding that these groups are here to stay and they are locked in their point of view. They are violent and they don’t leave much to the imagination. One thing I’ve learned in my 20 years in operational counter-terrorism is that terrorists mean what they say and they say what they mean.”
In an address to the public Thursday, President-Elect Joe Biden said there was a failure to protect one of the three branches of government and a failure to carry out equal justice.
“No one can tell me that if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protesting yesterday, they wouldn’t have been treated very, very differently,” he said.
Dr. LaShawn Williams, who is an Assistant Professor of Social Work at Utah Valley University agrees with President-Elect Biden’s comments. She said Wednesday’s security breach highlights another problem the country is still facing — systemic racism.
“What’s interesting is when protests are planned, police are prepared because they feel that there’s going to be a threat and they see a protest as a threat. They show up in militarized gear whenever Black Lives Matter protests or protests surrounding immigration are happening. This protest was planned. Why weren’t the police prepared? It’s because they did not see a threat,” said Dr. Williams.
“I cannot explain the actions that took place. You see video of security people, Capitol Police allowing people through gates and waving them through the door. There is no explanation for that,” said Burbank.
He added, “This represents a failure of leadership, starting with the President of the United States and moving right down the row. Far too often, when we look at police situations, we like to blame the police officers. The racism that exists in society and policing today, we point at the officers as the ones that are engaged in that. More important than the individual racism of the personnel is the policy, practice, and procedure that allows that to flourish under the command. I believe that’s exactly what we saw take place Wednesday.”
Dr. Williams also has training and experience in mental health and explained the kind of emotional and mental impact the U.S. Capitol riots could have on communities of color.
“What you’re looking at is the epitome of gaslighting. You’re looking at people who are seeing differential treatment. You’re going to see communities of color watching this display and this complicity, and then see that we are experiencing dissonance. That makes us question our own reality. It’s a term we use when we’re talking about abuse and it’s called DARVO, which is to deny your abuse, to attack the person you’re abusing, and to reverse victim and offender,” she said.
She went on to say, “We’ve been asked since the election results to be compassionate and considerate for the 70 million neighbors whose votes did not win this election. While we’re seeing victories in places like Georgia, who continue to show up and shift the structure that we have been living under, we are seeing it’s being overridden by these displays of violence, entitlement, and possession in our nation’s capital and it’s disorienting for communities of color who are asking to be heard.”
To watch the full IN FOCUS discussion with Prof. Guiora, Dr. Williams, and Burbank, click on the video at the top of the article.
Catch IN FOCUS discussions with ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen weeknights on the CW30 News at 7 p.m.