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DC Riot: Balancing Physical Security and American Freedoms

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By Allison G. S. Knox
Contributor, AMU Edge

The recent insurrection at the United States Capitol was highly alarming to people around the world. Watching the riot unfold was devastating, no matter which side of the political spectrum you fell on.

While a number of political debates have arisen from the aftermath of the insurrection, the security of the United States Capitol remains one of the most important issues at stake. The Capitol’s physical security protects democracy and myriad American freedoms, such as the freedom of speech and the right to peaceful assembly. However, maintaining the physical security of the Capitol while maintaining these freedoms was difficult, as the D.C. riot made clear.

Maintaining Physical Security at the Capitol

The United States Capitol is a monument for democracy in the United States, but it is also where legislation is taking place. As a result, it is particularly important for the Capitol police to maintain physical security around the building.

Understanding what might be a true security threat during an event such as the D.C. riot, for example, wasn’t easy.  Equally important, physical security issues may also tread on the civil liberties of individuals. This gray area is often debated by legal scholars because it can quickly become a “catch 22” situation.

Upholding Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Upholding freedom of speech and freedom of peaceful assembly are some of the most important elements of American democracy. More importantly, the United States Capitol Police need to uphold these freedoms but also maintain the physical security of the people who work in the U.S. Capitol building through the use of certain rules.

The DC Riot and Security Risks

During the D.C. riot, the large group of people presented an obvious physical security issue, but the Capitol Police could not prevent them from speaking their minds. When the protest turned violent, that was the moment that the physical security on Capitol Hill was compromised.

Policy Intersections

Just like many other American public policies, the issues of maintaining freedom of speech and maintaining physical security at the United States Capitol building intersect in complicated ways. Ultimately, the Capitol Police are charged with maintaining a difficult balance between these two important issues.

Allison G. S. Knox teaches in the fire science and emergency management departments at American Military University and American Public University. Focusing on emergency management and emergency medical services policy, she often writes and advocates about these issues. Allison serves as the At-Large Director of the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians, Secretary & Chair of the TEMS Committee with the International Public Safety Association and as Chancellor of the Southeast Region on the Board of Trustees with Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society in Social Sciences. Prior to teaching, she worked for a Member of Congress in Washington, D.C. and in a Level One trauma center emergency department. Passionate about the policy issues surrounding emergency management and emergency medical services, Allison often researches, writes and advocates about these issues. Allison is an emergency medical technician and holds four master’s degrees.

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