‘They failed the country’: Ex-DC chief cites ‘double standard’ in Capitol, Black Lives Matter preparedness

Members of U.S. Capitol Police inspect a damaged entrance of the U.S. Capitol on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Ramsey: 'There's clearly a double standard' (WTOP's Neal Augenstein )

Retired D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsey said the leadership of Capitol Police “not only failed themselves, they failed the Capitol, and they failed the country,” by failing to prevent Wednesday’s takeover of “The People’s House” by supporters of President Donald Trump.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 07: Members of U.S. Capitol Police inspect a damaged entrance of the U.S. Capitol January 7, 2021 in Washington, DC. The U.S. Congress has finished the certification for President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ electoral college win after pro-Trump mobs stormed the Capitol and temporarily stopped the process. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)(Getty Images/Alex Wong)

The lack of police preparedness was in stark contrast to racial justice protests over the summer in D.C., in response to the death of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police.

“When you look at what happened over the summer, during the protests with Black Lives Matter and others, you saw cops everywhere, and they were geared up,” said Ramsey, who was chief of the Metropolitan Police Department from 1998 through early 2007, and commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department from 2008 until his 2016 retirement. The Metropolitan Police Department is the formal name for the D.C. police.

Hundreds of Pro-Trump protesters answering the president’s call to challenge the Congressional counting of Electoral College votes in President-elect Joe Biden’s victory stormed the Capitol on Wednesday.

Members of the mob forced their way past police barricades, broke doors and windows, breached security, entered the Capitol, wandered through, vandalized and stole items from the building, initially with little resistance from outnumbered Capitol Police.

Rioters posed for photos inside the chambers and in elected lawmakers’ offices. One photo showed a man walking through the hallways, carrying a lectern with a Congressional placard still attached. Some carried Confederate flags through the U.S. Capitol building.

“The U.S. Capitol is the symbol of democracy, not just here, but around the world. People envision that dome and the Capitol before they think of the White House,” Ramsey said.

“Of all the places [for police] to lose control, that’s the last place you would want something like this to happen.”

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Ramsey was asked if he believes the fact that most of the protesters-turned-rioters were white changed the police response or preparedness for trouble, in comparison to the summer’s racial justice protests: “When you compare the two, clearly there’s a double standard. Whether it was intentional or whether it was accidental, I don’t know what was going on in their mind, but it was two different approaches.

“There should be no difference. The bottom line is you have to protect the Capitol. Did you actually think they may actually break inside? Probably not. But that’s the whole point of having enough resources there so that even if they thought it, they wouldn’t be able to do it.”

He pushed back on statements made after the riot from Biden and members of Congress. “They say things like, ‘This is not who we are.’ That’s exactly what we have become,” Ramsey said.

“When you think about the racial divide in the country, the economic divide, the digital divide, the political divide, and how wide and extreme that has become, this is where we are right now, at this point in history.”

Although Trump sparked the demonstration that turned violent and destructive, Ramsey believes the problem goes deeper than with the president.

“The façade that, somehow, we’re still that shining light on the hill and don’t have any problems — forget about that. We’ve got problems, and unless we face it, we will not survive as a democracy, long term,” Ramsey said.

“We will crumble from within, and all the signs are there. We better do something about it, and we better do something about it right now.”

Differences in police response

Ramsey isn’t the only one who saw a difference in how the pro-Trump protests and the Black Lives Matter protests were handled.

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine said he believes they were handled differently.

When Black Lives Matter unrest resulted in broken windows, fires and property damage last May and June, the federal government called in a huge response to the nation’s capital.

“National Guards from 20 states appeared in military gear. Contrast that with what you saw yesterday,” Racine said.

He puts most of the blame for the different responses on the Trump administration, calling on Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment and work to remove Trump from office.

“Federal law enforcement officials should have been prepared,” Racine said in an interview with MSNBC. “Our federal partners let us down.”

The difference in response is something D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser noted in a news conference late Wednesday night. “We saw different types of vehicles and a different posture used,” she said.

Specifically, Bowser pointed to Lafayette Square, where people who were protesting peacefully were forcefully removed in June by U.S. Park Police and other federal agents who used smoke canisters and pepper balls.

Law enforcement agents were clearing the way so Trump could pose for photos outside a nearby church that had been damaged during the unrest.

WTOP’s Nick Iannelli contributed to this story.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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