Editorial: The Capitol Police have a dire warning for America
One by one, the police officers described to a House select committee on Tuesday the horror they felt as rioters nearly overran our national legislature on Jan. 6, putting the people’s representatives within a few feet of a violent mob.
Officer Michael Fanone recalled being dragged from a line of around 30 officers battling to secure the Capitol. His ammunition was seized, he was beaten with fists and metal objects and he was shocked repeatedly by a Taser. “I’m sure I was screaming,” Fanone said, “but I don’t think I could even hear my own voice.”
Sgt. Aquilino Gonell’s skin was seared with pepper spray. His injuries required surgery and compelled him to go on leave. “That day continues to be a constant trauma for us, literally every day,” he said. He thought he was going to die.
Officer Daniel Hodges, who was crushed in a doorway by insurrectionists wielding a clear plastic shield, can’t forget the zealotry of rioters who called themselves Christian, with some sporting flags that said: “Jesus is my savior. Trump is my president.”
Officer Harry Dunn, who is Black, recalled the racial slurs hurled at him from rioters denouncing Black Lives Matter. “When my blood is red, I’m an American citizen,” Dunn testified. “I’m not a police officer. I’m a peace officer. I’m here to defend this country, defend everybody in this building.”
These officers from the Capitol Police and the Washington, D.C., police department are heroes. They defended the temple of American democracy as crazed supporters of President Trump besieged the complex, seeking to disrupt a joint session of Congress meeting to certify Joe Biden’s election. It was the only time the Capitol had been overrun since a British invasion during the War of 1812.
Much more detail about the attack will be revealed as the select committee examines the causes of the Capitol riot, as well as the security vulnerabilities it exposed and the delayed response of the other police and armed forces who eventually arrived to help. But it is difficult to imagine testimony more compelling, vivid and frightening than the accounts of the officers who put their lives on the line to prevent an even greater calamity than the deaths of five people, including one officer. We now know that numerous leaders, including Vice President Mike Pence, would surely have been beaten or even killed if quick-thinking officers had not kept them from harm.
A week after the riot, the House impeached Trump for inciting an insurrection, though he was acquitted thanks to Senate Republicans too cowardly to separate their once-great party from the parasitic demagogue who now controls it.
Even worse, many of the same Republicans blocked a Democratic measure that would have created an independent, bipartisan commission with input from leaders of both major parties. Then, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) created the select committee to conduct the investigation instead, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) sought to install a slate of Republican Trump loyalists, including one (Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio) who may well be a material witness in the probe.
The result is that all nine members of the committee were chosen by Pelosi. McCarthy and other Republicans are dismissing the proceedings as a charade, but if Tuesday’s hearing was any indication, the public is taking these proceedings seriously.
Pelosi is to be commended for appointing to the committee two Republican representatives, Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, who have placed nation above party. In a rare bipartisan move, the entire panel greeted the law enforcement officers and received their testimony with respectful — and at times emotional — attention.
It should not have taken these brave officers to point out what any reasonable American knows.
“Downplaying the events of that day is also downplaying those officers’ response,” Fanone told the lawmakers.
As Dunn told the committee: “We represent the good side of America, the people who actually believe in decency.” They also believe in the rule of law and in holding accountable, as Dunn put it, the “hit man” who sent the rioters to the Capitol — a not-so-veiled reference to Trump.
Will lawmakers heed the testimony of these courageous officers — career law enforcement personnel, not politicians — and ensure an attack like this never happens again? Will more Republicans at last stand up to Trump and the extremists he has egged on? Will Congress come together to defend Congress as an institution, placing fidelity to the Constitution above any party loyalty?
If not, the door will be opened to another attack, one from which we might never recover.
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