January 6, 2021 scars our memories as a Day of Shame. Images of a mob roaming through our Capitol building breaking things and threatening Vice President Mike Pence and Congress in session merge with awful pictures from Sept. 11, 2001. This assault is an even greater threat to our democracy because lawless American citizens stretched basic decency and fundamental American principles of law, order and democracy to a breaking point.
The aftermath is also troubling. While some mourn and honor the murdered Capitol police officer, other officers protecting elected officials in our House, and the reporters who bravely risked their lives, others engage in unhelpful responses.
We respect and honor senators and representatives who acted with integrity and dignity before and after the event. Fortunately, Sen. Todd Young and Sen. Mike Braun from Indiana voted not to reject President-elect Biden’s lawful election. However, earlier that day Braun did support attempts to deny election results. Many in Congress joined three Indiana Republican Representatives, including the one from our district, to continue supporting claims of fraud and election irregularities that had inflamed the mob. Let’s hope that time, soul searching and shame will bring sincere repentance.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi immediately demanded resignations from the Capitol police chief and the Sargent at Arms of the House of
Representatives, thereby scapegoating relatively low-level functionaries. She might be excused for an emotional reaction to death threats. However, her rush to judgment in forcing those resignations without proper review is counterproductive. Instead, a thorough investigation of the event, its causes and ways to prevent it from happening again are essential. That review must be done by authorized persons and committees. Legally based judgments by Congress or prosecutors and punishment of those engaged in or inciting insurrection, from top to bottom, should follow promptly.
Some question restraint shown by police guarding our Capitol from a mob armed with baseball bats, pepper spray and a few guns. Restraint by police in response is salutary because violence leads to more violence. It is unfortunate that one Capitol policeman was murdered and one person was shot while breaking into the House of Representatives. However, it is good that blood and bodies did not cover the floors and walls of Congress. Moreover, we don’t want our Capitol to become an armed camp with lines of troops in battle gear facing American citizens and beating them back with clubs and guns. Our shame would be even greater.
Unfortunately, some have used the event to highlight smoldering race divisions by implying, it seems, that Capitol police should have responded more violently against the white mob. It seems ironic that previous calls for restraint by the police in dealing with black protests and violence imply that brutal force in this case would somehow demonstrate equality. One might argue instead that restraint by officers of the law to avoid bloodshed is to be applauded. Indeed, proper restraint might be claimed as a positive outcome from the Black Lives Matter movement.
My earlier columns take moderating positions between opposing sides to encourage civil discussion. The middle is a lonely place, especially when the image of opposing sides forms a barbell instead of large middle with tapering ends. One hopes that time for reflection on Jan. 6 will increase numbers and influence of those in the middle. One kind of herd chaos immunity from chaos. We and our leaders might then engage safely in civil discussion to overcome dangerous divisions in our country that led to Jan. 6 and could lead to worse violence in the future.
Raymond B. Williams, Crawfordsville, contributed this guest column to the Journal Review.