Juliette Kayyem says intricate precautions by law enforcement can lessen the threat of violence at political rallies
The blame for heated atmosphere at Donald Trump rallies lies with Trump himself, she says
Editor’s Note: CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem is a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, a former assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in the Obama administration and founder of Kayyem Solutions, a security consulting firm. She is the host of the “Security Mom” podcast and author of a forthcoming book, “Security Mom: An Unclassified Guide to Protecting Our Homeland and Your Home.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.
Chicago, where were you? In all the finger-pointing that has gone on since Friday night’s planned Chicago rally for Donald Trump – and the debate over whether Trump or the protesters are to blame for security concerns and, later, after the rally was canceled, clashes in the streets – the responsibility of public safety entities has gone largely unexamined.
The main point of dispute about that night is whether the Chicago police or Secret Service asked Trump to cancel the event, or he did it himself.
By Saturday, after more protests and mayhem, Trump made clear that he had made the decision to cancel his rally, but that he had been consulting with law enforcement. Honestly, who cares? That sole issue – as if safety is some on-off switch between holding the event or not – completely misses the point. Once we have to ask whether the event should be canceled or not, order has already been lost.
Instead of getting into the various rights of each party to protest or be a demagogue, it is essential to examine the local, state and federal security apparatus that is going to be addressing this security situation for the foreseeable future. No matter whether you feel the protesters are a gang, hecklers and communists, or sent from our better angels, they have a right to protest in public spaces. And their safety is paramount to ensuring that their rights are protected and no harm is done.
Security for any major event, especially one in which the principal leader is egging on his supporters, is always viewed as a layered defense. A layered system means that there are levels upon levels of security, all working together, to protect the public; think of a football stadium where aerial surveillance, police presence, bag checks, metal detectors, bomb-sniffing dogs, plainclothes cops all are put into position well before the game begins.
From the moment the rally was organized, public safety officials ought to have realized that trouble could ensue. Anyone watching television last week could have figured that out.
As Chicago reviews its planning, and other cities face Trump rallies, it will be essential to ensure that entrances and exits for rally attendees and protesters have been sufficiently separated. A strong police presence must be ensured to lower the temperature and make sure that those attending the rally don’t mock or heckle activists. Community leaders can be present to provide important guidance.
While times are exceptionally tense, protest is hardly new in urban environments. And while I believe that all of the blame rests on Donald Trump himself – a man who speaks of leadership while taking no responsibility for the impact of his words – that fact is absolutely irrelevant for public safety agencies. For future events, mayors and police chiefs must simply assume the worst and build a safety apparatus around that. Any failure to plan makes police act in ways that are completely inconsistent with the minimal threat the protesters pose.
As for internal security, in any layered defense system, access to the event itself – who is coming in – is the primary and easiest way to ensure nonviolence. Whether private security or local and state security are in charge, the number of protesters who seem to be able to get into these rallies gives some credence to the notion that Trump likes having them in the audience so he can egg on his supporters, accuse them of terrorism and increase media attention. Safety officials must also notify Trump supporters on how best to respond to those who might interrupt the rally, mainly by not being violent.
Finally, there is the candidate himself. Limited Secret Service resources are being spent to protect a man who is not backing down with his rhetoric. The Secret Service has clearly and visibly increased its presence around Trump; a number of agents stand close to him on stage now. They are there to protect Trump only, and must ensure that their role is not to be his secret army, as it appeared when one of them had an altercation with a Time magazine photographer. They should only focus on Donald Trump, as they did when a protester rushed Trump’s podium Saturday afternoon.
Finally, I feel obliged to add the following, not with the hope of changing anyone’s mind, but just to reflect on our times.
As a CNN security analyst and someone who has been in the field for decades, I’ve refrained from diving into this raucous 2016 presidential campaign and the horse race. At various moments, and as a Democrat, I’ve either complimented or criticized various policy positions of the candidates as they relate to international and national security, but never the campaigns themselves.
No longer. The tone and temperature of the rallies for Donald Trump have become a security issue for all: the protesters, Trump’s supporters, innocent bystanders and the candidate himself.
In my opinion, there is only one person to blame for the events of the last few days. A leader leads, and Donald Trump has ignited and incited anger and violence. I fear that something may go terribly bad soon, that people will get hurt. And Democrats and Republicans should do everything to avoid that.