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Three homeland security lessons from Charlottesville


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Aug 2, 2011
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Three insightful homeland security lessons from Michael Chertoff, former Secretary of Homeland Security. He points out the great strides in protecting our nation from foreign threats, but, as the riot in Charlottesville revealed, we still need work on domestic terrorism security.

Three homeland security lessons from Charlottesville: Michael Chertoff
Charlottesville provides examples of what needs to be fixed:
  • First, although authorities prudently attempted to move the demonstration permitfrom Emancipation Park to a more spacious venue, a federal court rejected the effort, concluding that this was speech-content regulation in violation of the First Amendment. That decision made it much harder to separate groups of protesters and counterprotesters, and seriously hampered crowd control. And the decision was unnecessary, because the First Amendment allows regulation of the time, place and manner of speech. Authorizing demonstrations only in areas configured to separate contending factions is a classic example of permissible regulation. Moreover, with advance intelligence that some demonstrators were planning to come armed, there would be a compelling case for dividing these groups.
  • Also problematic was the apparent failure to deploy police and National Guard in adequate strength to respond with overwhelming force to outbreaks of violence. Noting that some so-called militia groups were well-armed and in battle dress, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe lamented that "they had better equipment than our state police had." That should never happen. Authorities need to develop intelligence that warns of possible participation by armed activists. When there is warning of that risk, police and National Guard should be arrayed in numbers and with equipment that demonstrate unequivocal superior strength. Most important, there should specific training on defusing and, if necessary, suppressing violent eruptions.
  • A third tragic lesson was the failure to shut down even minor acts of violence before they spun into a full-fledged melee. Virginia Homeland Security Secretary Brian Moran watched the Saturday demonstrations from a command center. Faced with individual acts of violence, he commented, "I compare it to hockey. Often in hockey there are sporadic fights, and then they separate." But street demonstrations are not hockey. While there is an understandable inclination to fear overreacting, the fact is that allowing small incidents of violence invites violence on a larger scale — just as happened here.

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