Why Were Police Unprepared for Riot Incited by Trump — and Why Were So Few People Arrested?

Sean Neumann
·5 min read

Graeme Sloan/Bloomberg via Getty U.S. Capitol building breached

The deadly pro-Donald Trump riot Wednesday, during which his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol building, has left many asking how police were overrun so easily.

Trump, 74, spent months inciting outrage over the 2020 election results with false claims the election had been stolen from him. For weeks, he had called on his supporters to show up to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, with Congress scheduled to formally finalize the election’s results.

“Big protest in D.C. on January 6th,” the president tweeted last month. “Be there, will be wild!”

Once Wednesday arrived, Trump delivered a disgruntled hour-long speech outside the White House, urging supporters to march to the Capitol, where lawmakers had begun ratifying President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, and telling them, "You will never take back our country with weakness.”

Outside the building, an emboldened crowd of rioters clashed with police, overran the officers and soon made their way into the building — forcing a frantic scene of evacuations, lockdowns and gunshots during which a woman was fatally shot and three others died from medical issues. Seventy people were arrested.

Many quickly compared Wednesday’s police response to law enforcement’s behavior over the summer when demonstrations against racial injustice, in the wake of the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, were met with a strong show of force and often violence.

MICHAEL REYNOLDS/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock Aftermath of riots in the U.S. Capitol

More than 400 people were arrested in D.C. during the height of those demonstrations, Forbes reported, compared to the fraction of that number taken into custody Wednesday.

Fraction of arrests compared to Black Lives Matter protests

Lawmakers, along many critical Americans, pointed to those numbers and called out the clear difference between how police handled the mostly white, pro-Trump crowd Wednesday and how police responded to peaceful demonstrations last summer, many of whom were Black.

Tim Hall, a D.C.-based Black Lives Matter activist, told PEOPLE he watched officers use mace spray, rubber bullets and water hoses on demonstrators last June. “I didn’t see none of that stuff taking place yesterday at all – and they were a lot rowdier than our crowd,” Hall, 29, said. “We didn't try to stop the whole country from functioning.”

RELATED: BLM Activist Says 'It Was Infuriating' to See Nooses and Confederate Flags at Capitol Riots

D.C. Metro police said they discovered a cooler filled with molotov cocktails, while Capitol police said their officers disabled two pipe bombs and arrested the owner of a “suspicious vehicle” that had to be “cleared of any hazards.”

More than 50 officers from the departments sustained injuries, a Capitol Police statement said, while several of them were “hospitalized with serious injuries.”

“The violent attack on the U.S. Capitol was unlike any I have ever experienced in my 30 years in law enforcement here in Washington, D.C.,” Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund said, adding, “Make no mistake – these mass riots were not First Amendment activities; they were criminal riotous behavior.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on Sund to resign Thursday afternoon, saying there was a "failure of leadership at the top of the Capitol Police."

"He hasn't even called us since this happened," Pelosi, 80, told reporters, throwing her hands up in disbelief.

National Guard members help police disperse crowds from the U.S. Capitol building on Wednesday night

Jon Cherry/Getty Images Riots at the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6

Video appears to shows officer taking selfie with rioter

Video taken by journalists and witnesses at the Capitol left more questions than answers. One showed a lone officer retreating once rioters entered the Capitol building, while another showed an officer gently escorting a woman clad in pro-Trump gear down the building’s steps by hand. Another appeared to show an officer taking a selfie with a rioter, while another appears to show officers removing a barricade and allowing rioters a path to advance further on the building.

Addressing the police response on Twitter, Rep. Maxine Waters asked, “What the hell?”

Calling for an investigation into the security breach, she wrote, "I warned our Caucus and had an hour long conversation with the Chief of Police 4 days ago. He assured me the terrorists would not be allowed on the plaza & Capitol secured."

RELATED: Former Attorney General William Barr Says Trump's Actions During Riot Were 'Betrayal of His Office'

Rep. Jim Cooper, a Tennessee Democrat, told local WUSA9 that, ”some people are worried today that some police were complicit with the protesters.”

"It's one thing to be friendly and to de-escalate the violence,” Cooper added. “But it's one thing to take selfies with them [rioters] and let them go through the lines."

A spokesperson for Capitol police did not respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment Thursday. Some of the department’s former officials criticized its preparations and performance soon after, while some congressional lawmakers, like Rep. Ayanna Pressley, a Massachusetts Democrat, called for immediate investigations.

“Obviously it was a failure,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said, The Associated Press reported. The Capitol siege “raises grave security concerns,″ Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, said, according to the AP.

Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty U.S. Capitol police officers receive medical treatment on Jan. 6

Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell thanked police in a statement and said, ultimately, the blame lies on the “unhinged criminals who tried to disrupt our government and with those who incited them.”

“With that said,” McConnell, 78, continued, “Yesterday represented a massive failure of institutions, protocols, and planning that are supposed to protect the first branch of our federal government."

The FBI has asked the public for help identifying those involved in Wednesday’s riots, while there was growing support among both Democratic and some Republican lawmakers to invoke the 25th amendment to remove Trump from office.

Responding to the FBI’s call for help identifying those responsible for Wednesday’s attack on the Capitol, Rep. Karen Bass, a California Democrat, responded with a photo of Trump: “Found one."