Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

“Fortress D.C.” Has Nothing to Do With Keeping People Safe

The nation’s capital has become a militarized zone in the runup to Inauguration day on January 20. But this is all about protecting the government and nothing to do with protecting the Washington’s working-class residents, who have been living in “Fortress D.C.” since the attacks of 9/11.

B.C. Daurelle

January 17, 2021
Facebook Twitter Share
Bloomberg via Getty Images

Days before Joe Biden’s inauguration, Washington, D.C. looks more like the site of a U.S. military occupation than the American seat of government. In response to the storming of the Capitol on January 6, and in anticipation of emboldened right-wing protests, troops from all 50 state National Guards and police from various federal agencies have poured into the capitol. An unprecedented 20,000 armed agents of the state will patrol the district’s 68-square-mile area, equivalent to nearly 3 percent of the city’s population. For the coming week, D.C. will host more armed officers than the U.S. deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria combined. Public access to a huge area around the National Mall, from Foggy Bottom to East End, has been completely restricted. Traffic and busses are rerouted, and 13 metro stations are out of service, creating nightmare commutes for those who must still work outside their homes. So-called “unscalable fences,” seven feet tall and topped with razor wire, line the perimeter, and dump trucks and buses have been set to obstruct vehicle traffic in many other nearby streets. 

Private entities are also working with government and security forces to monitor and control the population in the coming days. Airbnb has cancelled and blocked all area reservations during inauguration week, while rideshare apps Uber and Lyft are working with law enforcement with the aim of restricting travel in wider sections of the metropolitan area.

This is the completely predictable reaction of the bourgeois national security state to the January 6 events: more fences, more checkpoints, more men with guns. But Washington doesn’t suffer from a “lack of security”: the city’s core has been highly militarized for years, since the 9/11 attacks, earning the nickname “fortress D.C.” from residents. Militarization of the capital is a one-way ratchet, where even the potential for unrest provides a ready excuse to expand police presence. Whether it’s Donald Trump’s inauguration, the onset of the Covid-19 lockdown, last year’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations, and now the inauguration of Joe Biden, there’s no event to which the security state’s answer is not “more police.” 

After an event has passed, however, there is seldom a complete draw-down to previous levels of policing. Instead, the working people who must move through the city without benefit of a black-car entourage are subjected to ever more checkpoints, traffic stops, police dogs, and metal detectors. While members of Congress may feel slightly safer to see kevlar-vested National Guardsmen on every corner, the D.C. working class can expect only inconvenience, suspicion, and a greater likelihood of deadly encounters in their own neighborhoods and workplaces.

If the attempted insurrection teaches us anything, it should be that the number of police, security officers, and troops matters far less than where their sympathies and loyalties lie. Unfavorable numbers did not dissuade police from engaging violently with BLM marchers, who always numbered far more than the police at any given demonstration. Meanwhile, the right-wing mob that entered the Capitol building was several thousand strong, nearly a one-to-one ratio with the uniformed officers assigned to the Capitol complex. The lack of an overwhelming, violent response from security forces — like the one seen last summer — was not a “failure to anticipate,” a “lack of preparation,” or the police “caught off guard.” It was deliberate.

Even before the unprecedented surge we’re now witnessing, the federal district has always had far more law enforcement deployed than any other part of the country. Despite the high and ever-increasing police presence, however, the streets of D.C. are no safer or more peaceful for its working class. Residents of the city’s poorest neighborhoods have long felt that the police actually do too little to keep their streets safe, while also criminalizing basic existence. The coronavirusd crisis has brought this into sharper focus: police break up outdoor gatherings in parks with threats of arrest ,while the murder rate has ticked back up to the level of the early 2000s. The lack of government support during the pandemic has caused a predictable surge in crime, and D.C.’s many community-based violence-interruption efforts have been allowed to wither under austerity budgeting. Police budgets, though, remain inviolable: the city’s supposedly progressive mayor fought calls to defund or demilitarize the city’s force. Instead, the anwer, as always, is more funding, “better” training, and more actual cops. 

There was no lack of police in 2016 when more than 200 protestors outside Trump’s inauguration were arrested and stuck with outlandishly exaggerated charges. There was no shortage of armed agents willing to gas a path through protesters in Lafayette Square last June, beating journalists and clergy so Trump could stage a photo op. There are never too few police to chase down a Black teenager on a moped for not wearing a helmet, or to riddle with bullets the car of a woman with a baby in the back seat. Year after year, the D.C. Metro Police brutalize the district’s citizens with near impunity — the typical consequence for maiming or killing a civilian is a temporary reassignment to desk duty — without providing any meaningful measure of safety for anyone except the well-to-do and politically connected.

If Joe Biden’s response to right-wing terrorism seems tepid, it’s because an honest condemnation of the attempted insurrection would require him to acknowledge the complicity of police. But the Biden/Harris administration will be every bit as pro-cop as Donald Trump’s; they have both long cloaked themselves in the banner of “law and order” — even if Harris uses different words. Biden’s promise of a return to the Obama era reads as a chilling threat to maintain the conditions that fomented the rise of the Trump cult in the first place. 
No Democratic president could be expected to do anything fundamentally different, because Democrats do not question the legitimacy of policing. Their solutions are always more police (just “better”), higher budgets, bigger guns, and taller fences, even as the police grow less guarded about their violent authoritarian sympathies. Proposals to organize and empower working people to oppose right-wing violence will never come from the Democrats; they will repress such efforts. Placing the instruments of state violence in the hands of a friendlier oppressor will not make ordinary people’s lives any safer or easier. If the razor-wire fences in D.C. do come down after Inauguration Day, security will still remain tighter than it was before they were put up, at the expense of those who actually live in D.C. and make the city run.

Facebook Twitter Share

Guest Posts

“LUMA Out!”: Puerto Ricans Demand the Cancellation of Private Energy Company Contract

Protesters in Puerto Rico are demanding the cancellation of the contract with LUMA Energy amid seven consecutive electricity price rises and increasing blackouts.

Raura Doreste

July 27, 2022
US President Joe Biden speaks about climate change at the closed Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset, Mass.

As Europe Burns, Biden Puts Profits over the Climate

As the global working class combats the deadly climate crisis, Biden and Democrats offer little except loyalty to capital and the U.S. war machine.

David Kain

July 23, 2022
Naujawan Support Network members marched on Sukh Auto in May, demanding the owner pay a former worker the thousands he’s owed in wages and vacation pay

International Students in Ontario Are Fighting Wage Theft — and Winning

In Brampton, Ontario, a small team of young organizers has begun taking on the businesses that exploit them, one case at a time.

Caitlyn Clark

July 22, 2022

HarperCollins Workers Go On Strike Because “Passion Doesn’t Pay the Rent”

Yesterday, workers at the “Big Four” publisher HarperCollins went on a one-day strike, protesting the company’s refusal to agree to a fair contract.

Emily Janakiram

July 21, 2022

MOST RECENT

A young couple with their baby in front of the Capitol

Refugees Are Being Stranded in NYC – Both Parties Are to Blame

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has been sending buses of refugees to New York City. As the refugee crisis worsens, the Left in the United States needs a clear strategy for solidarity.

Sam Carliner

August 15, 2022
Two Turkish military members stand in front of a tank with the Turkish flag in the foreground and another tank with military members is visible in the background.

Turkey’s Dirty War Rages in Kurdistan

Since the beginning of the year, Turkey has been waging a dirty war against Kurdistan, terrorizing the civilian population with chemical weapons and drone strikes. What’s behind the action, and how is Germany aiding the onslaught?

Tom Krüger

August 14, 2022
A black and white photograph of Paulo Freire.

A Critique of ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’

Recently a debate has been taking place inside the recently formed Revolutionary Socialist Organizing Project (RSOP), which centers around revolutionary organization, what methods are needed to politically develop the revolutionary vanguard and the broader working-class and oppressed masses, and other issues.

Kendall Gregory

August 14, 2022
Demonstrators chant in front of the White House during a climate march on October 12, 2021.

Democrats’ ‘Climate Bill’ Puts Polluters before People and the Planet

Congressional Democrats, supported by President Biden, just passed a major spending bill focused on climate change, health care, and taxes. But it’s no win for the climate or the working class.

Robert Belano

August 13, 2022