Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Shattered Trust

By David G. Young

Hollywood, Florida, January 12, 2021 --  

Police participation in the attack on the Capitol shows that forces must be rebuilt from the ground up.

The Thin Blue Line flag flew behind a power boat moored along a channel in Ft. Lauderdale last Sunday. There were dozens of other boats moored on the bank on a warm afternoon, many of which flew flags. Most flew the standard American flag, but several had Trump 2020 flags, too.

Seeing flags supporting the defeated President flying alongside a police solidarity flag didn't raise an eyebrow at the time -- the two are commonly seen together. But just three days later, after a violent pro-Trump mob ransacked the U.S. Capitol, the combination takes on a far more sinister meaning.

Yesterday afternoon, two officers from the United States Capitol Police were suspended for acts in support of the insurrectionists. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) told reporters that one officer had posed for a selfie with the rioters and the other donned a Make America Great Again hat and directed the mob around the building.1 The two officers were suspended only after the white male Capitol Police chief was forced to resign and replaced with Yogananda Pittman, a black woman, as interim chief.2 An additional 10-15 officers are under investigation, according to the congressman.

Several other police departments around the country have announced investigations of off-duty police participating in the insurrection. Officers have been suspended or placed on administrative leave in Seattle, Baltimore, suburban Maryland and Virginia.3,4 This is consistent with earlier reports that a DC police officer witnessed rioters flashing their police IDs after they entered the building.5

Clearly, not all police officers were complicit in the insurrection. Several officers where attacked by the rioters, and U.S Capitol Police Officer Brian D. Sicknick lost his life from injuries he sustained during the riot.6 The contrast between those who did their duty and those who betrayed both their department and their country have put the Capitol Police force into crisis. One officer present during the attack has since committed suicide.7

The disturbing truth is that a significant number of police joined a violent assault on the U.S. Capitol, and a far larger number show enthusiastic support for an authoritarian President who refuses to concede defeat in a democratic election.

To some extent, police enthusiasm for Trump is just a reflection of Trump's strong support of the white working class, a group that dominates police forces nationwide. Yet police loyalty to Trump is also a consequence of the Black Lives Matter movement. Protests last summer saw many Americans of all races stand up against mistreatment of African Americans by the police.

During the Black Lives Matter protests, Trump repeatedly denounced the protestors and sided with officers accused of abuse. The Thin Blue Line Flag was designed as a reactionary symbol to counter Black Lives Matter -- it is commonly said to symbolize that Blue Lives Matter. The proliferation of these flags around the country over the last six months is an indication of how politicized the police have become.

Police participation in the Capitol attack shows that this politicization is now a threat to our country. Many officers, angered by being taken to task for violent abuse of black Americans, decided to violently attack American democracy as well. This is utterly unacceptable, and highlights the urgency with which America must purge its police forces.

As time goes on, it is likely that more revelations of police participation in the insurrection will be revealed. Police unions will undoubtedly respond that those involved are just a few bad apples who don't represent the majority who serve honorably and risk their lives to protect Americans every day. That may be so.

But it is not acceptable for the honorable majority to go about their business while their colleagues abuse black Americans and engage in a ham-fisted effort to destroy America's democracy. Every police officer must actively work to root out his or her rotten colleagues. Those who have failed to do so must be purged as well.

What's more, the minimum standard of behavior has got to change. No more nodding in acceptance of racist comments and bullying behavior. No more flying semi-fascist variants of the American flag. No more displaying signs and banners in support of a democratically defeated president who refuses to give up power. And it cannot be stressed enough -- no more looking the other way when colleagues engage in such wrongful acts.

America's police are trusted with a badge and a gun with the expectation that their behavior will be a model for other Americans. Police participation in the attack on the Capitol has shattered that trust. That trust must be rebuilt from the ground up, just like the forces themselves.

Related Web Columns:

Beyond Reform, June 6, 2020


1. CNN, 2 Capitol Police Officers Suspended and at Least 10 More Under Investigation for Alleged Roles in Riot, January 11, 2021

2. NPR, In Historic 1st, U.S. Capitol Police Name Yogananda Pittman As Acting Chief, January 11, 2021

3. Reuters, Off-Duty Police, Firefighters Under Investigation in Connection with U.S. Capitol Riot, January 10, 2020

4. Baltimore Sun, Baltimore-Area Police Agencies investigate Whether Employees Rioted at Capitol; Anne Arundel Officer Suspended, January 12, 2021

5. 5. Politico, Justice Department Warns of National Security Fallout from Capitol Hill Insurrection, January 7, 2021

6. United States Capitol Police, Press Release, January 7, 2021

7. Fox 5, Capitol Police Officer Dead by Suicide After Responding to Capitol Riot, January 10, 2020