The scene was a far cry from 1783, when the Continental Congress, meeting in the nation’s capital of Philadelphia, fell under siege by unpaid soldiers of the Continental Army, and Pennsylvania’s state militia didn’t lift a finger.
This time, when a similarly situated Congress sent out an SOS, the District did not hesitate. Within minutes, D.C. police responded to the distress signal with a force that, at the height of the attack, numbered 850 officers — nearly one-quarter of the MPD.
The liberation of federal lawmakers came at a cost.
Sixty-five MPD officers suffered injuries.
Some went home that night with bruised and sprained limbs, broken noses, Taser injuries, concussions, and damaged lungs caused by chemical irritants and bear spray.
Cops were beaten with metal poles, badges were ripped off as they fought with rioters — some of them wearing Make America Great Again hats, others waving Trump and Confederate flags.
Vastly outnumbered by the mob within and outside the Capitol, the police did not retreat. “MPD’s police officers were engaged in a literal battle for hours. Many were forced into hand-to-hand combat,” acting police chief Robert J. Contee III testified to the House Appropriations Committee on Jan. 26.
Seven hours elapsed between the time Capitol Police called for help and the time when the House and Senate went back to work.
All the District’s costs are still being calculated, but Contee estimated that the department’s total “for the week of the insurrection is approximately $8.8 million.”
Why was the Capitol put in harm’s way?
Days before the sustained assault on the Capitol, then-President Donald Trump tweeted to his supporters to march on Washington to protest the count of electoral votes that would formalize Joe Biden’s victory.
Trump said, “Be there, will be wild!” They were, and it was.
Contee said last month that he “was stunned at the tepid response from Department of the Army, which was reluctant to send the D.C. National Guard to the Capitol.”
Let me take a crack at it. That likely would have entailed deploying Trump’s Department of the Army against Trump-provoked thugs. How does that sound?
But why refocus on a four-week-old insurrection?
First, to fully appreciate the shocking unreadiness of Capitol authorities compared with their District counterparts. Days before the attack, I learned from an MPD detective that all leave had been canceled and officers were pulling 12-hour shifts — which Contee confirmed in his testimony. Also in advance of Jan. 6, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) alerted several area police departments to stand by, and more than 300 members of the D.C. National Guard were deployed on the streets to provide traffic control and crowd management.
Second, and most important to this native Washingtonian, Congress, to this day, has not delivered formal recognition of the District of Columbia’s heroic role in saving the Republic.
The ingratitude is bipartisan and entrenched in both houses of Congress. The feds haven’t even acknowledged that the District deserves, at least, an IOU.
D.C. taxpayers are left with the tab for securing the Capitol and the rest of the federal enclave downtown.
Bailing out Congress is okay.
But District residents are not allowed a vote in Congress or have the authority to spend our locally raised tax dollars without congressional approval. We can help save the Capitol complex and the Supreme Court, but we can’t appoint our own judges. Unlike those in most state and local jurisdictions, the D.C. attorney general cannot prosecute adult felonies and serious misdemeanors in the city. That job is left up to a presidentially appointed U.S. attorney.
The federal government guards and flaunts its responsibility for protecting federal buildings stretching from the Library of Congress to the Lincoln Memorial and facilities scattered between.
That is, until violent constituents of members of Congress come to town to run wild through the Capitol. Presto — MPD officers on the front lines rescuing hunkered-down U.S. lawmakers and their vanquished police force.
Over the years, I have had much to say about the MPD, some of it pretty harsh. Much of it deserved, given the presence of some bad apples.
But not this time around.
And the District doesn’t get as much as a thank-you note from the neighboring Congress.
So, I’ll say it for them and, I suspect, many residents of our nation’s capital: Thank you, MPD. Well done.
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