Note: This story originally appeared in the 47.3 print edition of The Coat of Arms in February 2021.
Americans witnessed an insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021. Right-wing rioters stormed the Capitol building, frustrated by the results of the democratic presidential election. To make matters worse, the Capitol Police was understaffed, unable to stop the mob from entering the Capitol and damaging and/or stealing property. But at the same time, some of the officers’ brave actions on the front lines saved lives. For that, Americans should be grateful — not critical, as is the typical response.
Take, for example, the actions of Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman. A viral Huffington Post video shows that as rioters approached the Senate chamber — all in the midst of a debate over the certification of Arizona’s electoral votes — Goodman asked the mob to stop advancing. Predictably, the mob still advanced. But instead of retreating to the Senate chamber, where Goodman could find backup, he tricked the intruders into following him up the stairs and away from the Senate. In doing so, he used himself as bait, buying time for the Senate to evacuate. Additionally, Goodman is Black, and many of the mob members were known white supremacists and neo-Nazis, adding a possible target on his back.
Stories like this one serve as lone bright spots in the darkness currently associated with police. Sadly, many Americans still choose to ignore these heroic acts, blaming all police officers for the horrific attack. Of course, there is no denying that the Capitol Police was severely understaffed and ill-prepared for the masses of rioters on Jan. 6, and Americans have a right to be angry. But it should be targeted anger, targeted toward the few law enforcement leaders who either intentionally or unintentionally allowed the Capitol to be breached, targeted toward the intruders for attempting to prevent democracy, and targeted toward former President Trump for inciting the mob. Simply stating, “all cops are bad,” a saying that has circulated through social media since the spring Black Lives Matter protests, is unreasonable. The promotion of this false claim just leads to more division in a time when unity must be stressed to avoid another attack on democracy.
Rumors about whether there was some sort of organized decision by the police to allow protestors into the Capitol or of the police giving them a “free pass” because the majority of the protesters were white conservatives have circulated in the wake of the attack. This is largely because videos show a few cops posing for pictures with the intruders. But, once again, this accusation is just grasping at straws, as the vast majority of footage shows officers trying to push back, officers pointing guns at the intruders or acting in other brave ways. In fact, a New York Times visual investigation published online on Jan. 22 shows three police officers struggling to defend a west-side door into the Capitol building. In the foot- age, rioters subsequently drag and beat them with stolen police shields, sticks and poles. There were also 50 officers injured in various struggles, and Officer Brian Sicknick tragically died after being hit on the head with a fire extinguisher.
Somehow, a lot of observers suggest that the police should have been even more aggressive in de- fending the Capitol, by firing their guns and other weapons, as detailed in a New York Times article, “Racial Double Standard of Capitol Police Draws Outcry.” But with the deadly weapons involved, a two-way bloodbath in the nation’s capital could have ensued, sending a poor message to the nation. That’s not how policing in America is supposed to work: human life always comes first, even if it means accepting the fact that intruders may damage historic property in the Capitol. Of course, with the proper amount of officers, the Capitol could have been sealed off from intruders without a significant amount of bodily injury, but that option was not in the cards on Jan. 6.
To classify these officers as anything other than brave and heroic is a disrespect to all law enforcement around America and frankly to the institutions that protect our coveted democracy. The Capitol Police was abhorrently understaffed, yet they still were able to save every Congressman from bodily injury, and put themselves at risk to save democracy. That needs to be celebrated, not admonished.