Among the myriad moving parts and quick-changing tides of people filled with angst at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, one unequivocal constant is etched deep: Our U.S. Capitol police force gave it their all, indelibly evidenced by one of their own succumbed to wounds sustained while repelling an enraged crowd.
U.S. Air Force veteran and U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick had been on the force since July 2008, assigned to the First Responders’ Unit; his 12 years of police service ended on January 7, one day after fighting for his life in an area hospital.
Varying reports included that he had been repelling the mad push to breach Capitol grounds and was struck over the head with a fire extinguisher. Still, he stood his post and pushed back against the throngs of unruly individuals and their frenzied state of mind.
Reports indicate he eventually returned to his division’s command quarters and collapsed on the police facility floor. Rushed to a hospital, he was kept alive via life support apparatus. He never recouped.
Thus, we are at the junction of sadness over the loss of life…and the bewilderment of a scarcely numbered faction of police assets to quell a feisty phalanx of unquestionably riled-up people, especially with the foretelling of imminent uprising born of law enforcement intelligence and indicators made public via social media channels.
The overwhelmingly outnumbered faction of Capitol cops did their best and took the hits (fulfilling their oath) on behalf of lawmakers inside, some of the same voices who trumpet the diminution or outright abolition of police services. Irony!
Despite the “defund the police” rhetoric, here is a glaring example of courage under fire at a provincial place where security is utmost and could have easily been reduced to a smoldering pile of ash…if not for police officers present and willing to put it all on the line.
Speaking of being on the frontlines —where cops can always be found— some conspiracy sorts started fanning flames from the get-go, claiming Capitol cops simply let these rowdy rebels traipse right on in. Utterly ridiculous assertion when complete context is considered. Per PolitiFact, “We didn’t find evidence of that. Instead, we discovered that some online video is getting misinterpreted. Many officers had to abandon their posts and barricades because they were far outnumbered and overwhelmed.”
Cops are no strangers to scapegoating; we have seen episode after episode of folks pointing fingers at the police when utopia fails to show up and deliver roses. Nevertheless, LEOs stand tall and devote their time and attention to law and order, even when perpetrators arrive in droves and deliver depravity.
In the words of my online cohort Gary Rudick, a retired police chief whose insights are always duly measured and provide pertinent clarity: “I had the honor of serving as an assessor for the Capitol police many years ago. I found their people to be professional and committed and I have not changed my opinion of them despite the fact their leadership failed to properly prepare for an event that intelligence clearly suggested was possible.
“I visited the place in the Capitol where two officers died defending the occupants from a gun wielding attacker many years ago. They were heroes and so is this man, [Officer Brian Sicknick]. To be murdered by the very people you are serving in order to guarantee a democratic nation and to defend its institutions of government is not just tragic, it is an outrage. This should never have happened.”
The U.S. Capitol Police Department press release announcing Officer Sicknick’s death included the following phrase to illustrate his brave and courageous feats under fire: He “was injured while physically engaging with protesters.”
Respecting the somber nature of Officer Sicknick’s line-of-duty death, watching the events unfold before our eyes, with mini episodes of Capitol cops demonstrably overwhelmed and feverishly trying to repel the massive rebellion, the mind automatically wrestles with thoughts we couldn’t have imagined ever materializing:
Where are all the cops?
Why are there so many unruly people in the Capitol building?
How could this possibly be real?
Why does it seem so easy to breach the Congress and its chambers?
There are many more questions stemming from this historical debacle and the black eye sustained by a federal force whose upper echelon inexplicably took it lightly, despite the anecdotal, logical, practical, and professional principles which should have been ordinarily/extraordinarily exercised on behalf of everyone, including the minimal number of cops on duty at the time.
To that end, the United States Capitol Police Labor Committee issued a written statement condemning their agency’s administration and its ill-considered preparation leading to officer safety issues and operational vulnerabilities posed by an underestimated protest:
“The rank and file of the United States Capitol Police (USCP) are frustrated and demoralized by the lack of leadership that undermined the response of law enforcement to the violent events at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th,” and that a “lack of planning led to the greatest breach of the U.S. Capitol since the War of 1812.”
Like the rest of us, Capitol police union boss Gus Papathanasiou looks forward to a thorough investigation so that his members do not have to endure another debacle like the one on January 6. He wrote some telling information implying ongoing woes with leadership:
“Congress will undoubtedly have hearings to determine what went wrong on January 6th. As a frontline officer, I look forward to participating in that process. I want to highlight that the lack of communication with the officers on January 6th was not an anomaly. It is part of a pattern we have seen from the current USCP leadership. Until we have a leadership team at USCP that is willing to work hand in hand with the Union and our officers as one team, we will continue to have systemic failures.”
On the heels of that rebuke, other voices bellowed similarly. I watched a press conference during which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed how she witnessed abject fear and horror on the faces of congressional staffers hiding under tables and behind desks. To her credit, Ms. Pelosi wanted to know what went wrong with respect to security and police protections. She also expressed that U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund didn’t even call her as of that presser, and that she wishes he step down.
She got her wish last night when Mr. Sund tendered his resignation, effective January 16, 2020, mere days before a presidential inauguration (whereby a repeat episode is expected). Let’s pray whoever takes the U.S. Capitol reigns kicks it into gear, a much higher one than witnessed on January 6.
Interestingly, a “freshman” congresswoman newly elected to office, Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) won her Capitol seat by campaigning with emphasis on police reform, among other tenets. Per a report by The Hill, Congresswoman Bush admitted “she had been struck by how friendly Capitol Police had been since her arrival.” That leads one to believe that she had preconceived/inaccurate notions likely born of online propaganda and the many videos showing mere smidgeons of real-life encounters between police and criminal elements. Good to know she experienced reality for herself and evaluated the other side of the coin.
As is always the case, many hours across forthcoming days will unearth the imagery and identities (hopefully) of all who were complicit in this mad rush at the Capitol, paramount of which is who wielded a fire extinguisher used to murder Officer Brian Sicknick. No less important are the details surrounding the reported Capitol police officer who shot/killed Ashli Babbitt as she forced her way through a broken pane of glass aside a buttressed doorway, the opposite side of which led to congressional chambers.
Regarding how most of America feels about its law enforcement institution and the brave men and women who step forward and assume the many serious challenges, one Facebook commenter (who was within proximity to the U.S. Capitol on January 6) revealed the following:
“Reading articles like [this Capitol press release announcing Officer Sicknick’s heroism and death], makes me feel grateful I was nowhere near those steps on the 6th. I was so hungry and had such a headache. I had to stop and eat. My heart goes out to those officers, they busted their [butts] the whole time I was there. With so many law agencies in that city…you heard police all day and night.
“After I ate, I went up to some police officers there. Asked them what was going on. They told me they breached the Capitol.” Too close to the debacle, this commenter wisely did an about-face. She concluded with, “May the good Lord bless and keep Officer Brian Sicknick and his family.” Indeed.
Officer Sicknick’s death is tragic, and there were many more Capitol cops injured while trying to hold the line.
Per a report by The Hill, “more than 50 Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police officers were injured after the rioters struck them with metal pipes and chemical irritants. Several officers were hospitalized with serious injuries, according to [Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund].”
In the aftermath, Speaker Pelosi praised police: “Let me just say this, many of our Capitol police just acted so bravely and so…with such concern for the staff, for the members, for the Capitol, for the Capitol of the United States.”
Former Senate sergeant-at-arms Andrew B. Willison also heralded the Capitol police: “These are brave Capitol police officers, men and women, and they all work very hard and put themselves in harm’s way on a regular basis.”
On January 6, 2020, not only Americans’ but eyes across the globe got to see how cops grapple despite overwhelming odds and do their darndest to maintain order in a society whose population includes some who wish to abolish the law enforcement institution. Can you imagine that? It’s fair to say that even lawmakers and the entire congressional work force facilitating the nation’s business know far better at this point.
Infinitely, it is simple logic that lawmakers rely on law enforcement officers to carry out their statutory mandates and safeguard them against anarchists seeking to overthrow the constitutional principles drawn under the Capitol spire.
Again and again, cops continue to answer the call…and the nation’s Capitol debacle is bold punctuation of this long-held fact.