After the deadly January 6 riot, the US Capitol became a fortress. On Friday when some, but not all, Of these security measures, a knife-wielding attacker was still in action rammed his car into Capitol cops. The incident revives questions about the protection of the Capitol and whether some heightened security measures should become permanent.
Police officer William Evans was pronounced dead, according to a statement from the Capitol Police. Evans was an 18 year old police veteran.
“It is with a very, very heavy heart that I announce that one of our officers has succumbed to his injuries,” said Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman on Friday, adding that a second officer was injured. Pittman told reporters that after the nameless man rammed his car into two officers and smacked the car against a security barrier, he got out of the car with a knife. The suspect has not yet been identified by the police.
“The suspect pounced on US Capitol police officers. At the time, US Capitol police officers fired at the suspect,” said Pittman. “At that point the suspect was pronounced dead.”
Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman (right) speaks to reporters April 2. Drew Angerer / Getty Images
The Capitol was temporarily locked after a person reportedly rammed a vehicle against several police officers on Capitol Hill. Win McNamee / Getty Images
Although the Capitol was mostly empty during the hiatus in Congress, Friday’s incident will inevitably raise questions about whether the remaining increased security put in place after January 6th is sufficient.
Immediately after the uprising, new security measures were introduced:
A seven-foot barrier of “non-scalable” metal fencing was erected around four miles around the Capitol complex, blocking an extensive area around it and near buildings. Capitol Police Officers and a late deployment of Around 25,000 members of the National Guard guarded the building before President Joe Biden’s inauguration day. Several members of the National Guard told Vox at the time that they were positioned around the four mile long black fence, “just in case – and you know what I mean”. The legislature had to Go through metal detectors before stepping on the floor of their chamber. The office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi approved fines for members who avoided the detectors after a number of Republican lawmakers bypassed them. In late January, the Capitol Police planned to station members at airports and Union Station to monitor lawmakers and try to protect them while they were traveling.
Some of these remain, but other measures have been changed. For example:
Members of the National Guard walk through a security fence surrounding the Capitol on March 4. Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Rare incidents like this have happened before, and everyone was contained, even if no extreme security measures were in place. In 2006, a suspect crashed a car against a barrier near the Supreme Court and entered the Capitol before being arrested.
However, Friday’s incident revealed that the Capitol complex, the lawmakers inside, and the officials guarding everything are still facing serious threats. Now there is likely to be a big debate about how closed the seat of American democracy really needs to be.
Improved security around the Capitol could become permanent
A security clearance of the Capitol in early March revealed that the complex was extremely vulnerable, partly because the building’s police force was “understaffed, inadequately equipped and inadequately trained”. The study, which was led by retired Lieutenant General Russell Honoré, called, among other things, for the establishment of a “rapid reaction force”, more Capitol police officers and a better exchange of information.
These proposals were well received by lawmakers at the time, including some progressives who could be expected to question an increase in security funding.
Honoré’s report also demanded A retractable fence that was “easy to erect and deconstruct”.
Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), who leads Congressional security response, told reporters Friday that a retractable fence and other measures are being considered. “We’ll be reviewing everything at this point, including the fencing,” but he noted, “it’s very, very early.”
“We can’t get too far from ourselves without knowing that we can protect the Capitol and harden the Capitol,” he continued.
A Democratic lawmaker, asking not to be identified, said serious discussions were underway over a permanent fence around the Capitol, but which would be of the retractable type suggested in Honoré’s report. The member of Congress noted that the fencing would increase if there were intelligence reports of an impending threat.
In fencing, however, most of the debate could be about the future security of the Capitol Building.
In the weeks after the fence was put up, Republican and Democratic lawmakers opposed the fence and the wide perimeter it built around the Capitol grounds, much of which is normally open to public visits.
Legislators felt so strong on this issue that several sponsored laws prevent fences from becoming permanent. In March, Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO), Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) took a measure to prevent federal funding from being used on a permanent barrier.
“Permanent fencing would send a un-American message to the nation and the world by transforming our democracy from an accessible and popular one to an exclusive and fearful democracy for its own citizens,” Norton said at the time.
Other members of Congress are already annoyed that the outdoor area is no longer there.
Security fences have protected the Capitol from the public since the January 6 attack. Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
“I wasn’t a fan of dismantling the metal fences as quickly as we were,” said Rep. Anthony Brown (D-MD) Vox in an interview on Friday. When asked why, he replied, “So cars can’t go over Capitol cops.”
Several congressional officials Vox spoke to said they didn’t want to see increased security around the Capitol in the future either – “God, I hope not,” exclaimed an aide.
“We all hated the fence that hasn’t changed, but today there was a real fear,” added another employee. “It seems very unlikely to me that it will come down now this calendar year.”
“I think the current security situation is sufficient. The Capitol is and should not be a fortress, ”repeated a third, adding that the reforms they want to implement are better training and possibly more officers.
Another noted that there is a long history of attackers ramming their cars against Capitol barriers. What that employee would rather see is better protection for the Capitol Police, such as making sure they stay behind barriers until a vehicle completely stops. Still, the aide admitted what to do next, “is a tough question.”
After Friday, that’s a question that has yet to be answered.