Police officers cut through gamesmanship with harrowing accounts of defending Capitol

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There are times in all of our lives when we struggle with pressure, which rises exponentially as the stakes grow graver. 

And then there is the added pressure of those who perform on the public stage.

In the Tokyo Olympics, gymnast Simone Biles abruptly pulled out, saying she wants to “focus on my mental health” rather than attempting her dangerous leaps and gyrations. A day earlier, she said on Instagram that “I truly do feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders at times…but damn sometimes it’s hard.” I sympathize with her, but she let an awful lot of people down by just walking away.

But these are after all sporting competitions for well-paid athletes. Politicians face a very different set of pressures, representing all of us — even though some treat it as sport — and charged with protecting the country.

The maneuvering over investigating as serious a matter as the Capitol riot has sometimes seemed like schoolyard games. 

First, there was Republican balking that killed the plan for an independent bipartisan commission. Then there Nancy Pelosi knocking off two Republicans named to her select House committee — a finger in the eye to Kevin McCarthy — followed by McCarthy taking his ball and going home by pulling his remaining members. And then he dismissed Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger as “Pelosi Republicans,” which they called “childish.”

All of which set the stage for yesterday’s emotional hearing. The four police officers described a very different kind of pressure that they faced on Jan. 6 — violent, cruel, life-threatening pressure.

No one would dispute that they are heroes. They held the line, with democracy at stake. It was heartbreaking to watch, not least because of the sense of betrayal in their voices about being assaulted by those they are pledged to defend.

Daniel Hodges of the D.C. police said he feared he would be lynched as rioters shouted “Traitors!” and “Your mother’s a whore!” and “You will die on your knees!”

Harry Dunn of the Capitol Police said he was hit with a “torrent of racial epithets,” including “F***ing N-word,” and “this [N-word] voted for Joe Biden.” Another Black officer told Dunn that a rioter had allegedly said, “Put your gun down and we’ll show you what kind of [N-word] you really are.” Dunn blamed Donald Trump for his role on Jan. 6, likening him to someone who hired a “hit man” to conduct a crime.

Aquilino Gonell, an Iraq War veteran serving with the Capitol Police, said “I could feel myself losing oxygen and recall thinking to myself, ‘This is how I’m going to die — defending this entrance.’” 

Asked about one GOP lawmaker comparing most of the protesters to tourists, Gonell said: “How do you call an attack on a police officer a ‘tour’ when you see my bleeding hands, when you see all the officers getting concussions, getting maimed, getting fingers shattered, eyes gouged?”

D.C. Officer Michael Fanone said the attackers were trying to get his gun and one man shouted, “Kill him with his own gun!” 

Now that’s the kind of pressure most of us cannot even imagine.

Indeed, Rep. Jamie Raskin said he wished lawmakers would show “a fraction of the courage and valor” displayed by these officers.

Look, we all know the political backdrop here. It’s in the Democrats’ interest to keep the spotlight on the attack on the Capitol and Trump’s role. It’s in the Republicans’ interest to move on and avoid saying anything that will aggravate Trump, who continues to defend the “loving crowd” and argue the election was stolen (which of course is what Jan. 6 was about).

But that doesn’t undercut the importance of investigating this tragedy.

The two pro-impeachment Republicans who joined the panel also withstood pressure from their own party and may well have sacrificed their careers. “Do we hate our political adversaries more than we love our country and revere our Constitution?” Cheney asked. Still, it would have been better if the panel included pro-Trump Republicans.

But the four officers who testified — and all who risked their lives at an insurrection in which 140 cops were injured — set an example for the world. For that, they deserve the gold medal, and our everlasting thanks.

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