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Lax security at the Capitol prompts widespread demand for answers

There were serious questions Thursday about security in and around the Capitol and why there weren't better preparations ahead of time. William Brangham reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As Lisa mentioned earlier, there are serious questions today about the security in and around the Capitol, and why there wasn't better preparation and plans made ahead of time.

    William Brangham examines how the law met disorder.

  • Pres. Donald Trump:

    We're going to the Capitol.

  • William Brangham:

    Just moments after the president's speech, thousands of his supporters were on the move down Pennsylvania Avenue.

  • At around 1:

    00 p.m., the mob forced its way through barricades in front of the Capitol and past a line of Capitol Police officers. There were scuffles.

  • Man:

    Oh, there we go.

  • William Brangham:

    But social media video appeared to show officers opening the fencing in at least one location.

    The rioters then pushed up the steps on both sides of the Capitol Building, banging on doors and breaking windows. At around 2:00 p.m., the Capitol had been breached.

  • Man:

    This is our country. This is our house.

  • William Brangham:

    Outnumbered members of the Capitol Police force were unable to contain them. In one stairwell, a single officer was left to try and fend off an oncoming crowd.

    But elsewhere, streaming footage showed an officer seemingly taking a selfie with a rioter.

    Then, with many lawmakers evacuated, the group roamed freely through the historic halls of Congress, the Rotunda, Statuary Hall, the Senate chamber. Photographers captured an intruder sitting at the desk of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

    The storming of the Capitol turned deadly when a Capitol Police officer shot a woman who was allegedly trying to enter the House chambers, where some U.S. representatives were still sheltering.

    Eventually, the rioters began filing out of the Capitol Building, some walking past a man who appears to be a police officer who didn't arrest or even stop them. By about 6:00 p.m., officials declared the Capitol complex secure.

    This incident has raised sharp questions from both sides of the aisle about what went wrong. How is it that the 2,000-member Capitol Police allowed such a dangerous breach at the heart of the federal government?

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called for a painstaking investigation and said: "Yesterday represented a massive failure of institutions, protocols, and planning that are supposed to protect the first branch of our federal government."

    Representative Tim Ryan, Democrat from Ohio, chairs the subcommittee that funds and oversees the Capitol Police.

  • Rep. Tim Ryan:

    I think it's pretty clear that there's going to be a number of people who are going to be without employment very, very soon, because this is an embarrassment, both on behalf of the mob and the president and the insurrection and the attempted coup, but also the lack of professional planning and dealing with what we knew was going to occur.

  • William Brangham:

    A former chief of the Capitol Police, Terrance Gainer, spoke to NBC's "Today Show."

  • Terrance Gainer:

    Clearly, there's failures. There has to be a lot of questions asked and answers given. What is very clear is, the police underestimated the violent crowd and the size of it and they overestimated their ability to control it.

  • William Brangham:

    But in a statement, the current Capitol Police chief, Steven Sund, defended his — quote — "heroic officers," 15 of whom were hospitalized with injuries, one critically.

    He said the attack was unlike anything he's experienced, and that the department is conducting a thorough review of this incident, security planning and policies and procedures.

    The widespread criticism also centered on the treatment of this crowd, which was almost all white, compared to the tactics used by police forces elsewhere on Black and brown protesters. Many pointed to the violent law enforcement crackdowns on racial justice protesters this summer in Washington, D.C., and around the country.

    The Associated Press reported more than 10,000 people were arrested in protests between the end of May and the start of June alone.

    Newly elected Missouri Democratic Congresswoman Cori Bush was a leader of the 2014 protests over the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson.

  • Rep. Cori Bush:

    Had we, as Black people, did the same things that happened today with the police, had we fought with fists police officers, the reaction would have been different. We would have been laid out on the ground.

    There would have been — there would have been shootings. There would have been people in jail. There would have been people beat with batons. And I know because I have been there.

  • William Brangham:

    A senior law enforcement official rejected the accusation that racial bias played any role in what happened yesterday.

    This official told the "NewsHour" that the Capitol Police were clearly surprised by the size and the violence of the mob that broke into the Capitol, and that they simply didn't have enough manpower or reinforcements.

    This official also said that they couldn't make mass arrests yesterday because they were so outnumbered, but they did promise that more arrests would be coming.

    And, today, the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, D.C., said they have filed 40 cases, mostly for unlawful entry, but some assault and weapons charges, and said those were just the beginning.

    The DOJ also confirmed that two explosive devices had been found and neutralized near the Capitol yesterday.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm William Brangham.

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