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The Most Important Lesson America Taught Me After the Jan. 6 Attack

6 minute read
Dunn joined the United States Capitol Police (USCP) in 2008 and since 2011 has served at the officer rank as a Private First Class (PFC). A recipient of the Presidential Citizens Medal, the Congressional Gold Medal, and the Capitol Police Service Medal among other accolades, Dunn is the author of STANDING MY GROUND: A Capitol Police Officer's Fight for Accountability and Good Trouble After January 6th, out now from Hachette Books

When I reflect on what happened on Jan. 6, 2021, I’ll admit that at times I have asked myself, “What is the point?” I’m out here battling in the media, talking with people at events around the country about what the Capitol and DC Metropolitan Police and I experienced on January 6th, and I sometimes think, “Why am I doing this?”

Hundreds of the people who attacked us on January 6th are in jail. But for me and the other officers that were on the scene, that’s not enough. Like I said when I testified before the January 6th Committee, “If a hitman is hired, and he kills somebody, the hitman goes to jail. But not only does the hitman go to jail, the person who hired them does. There was an attack carried out on January 6th, and a hitman sent them.”

The hitman was Donald Trump, and he needs to answer for his crime.

But after more than 800 days, after officers Michael Fanone, Aquilino Gonell, Daniel Hodges, and I testified, after scores of additional witnesses, including dozens of Republicans and people who worked for Donald Trump testified before the committee and thousands of pages of documents were introduced to show that Donald Trump was responsible for what happened that day, he’s still out there. Not only is he out there; he is running for president even as he faces the possibility of going to jail under a federal indictment for crimes against the United States. And that pisses me off.

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At his campaign rallies, Trump has thousands of Americans standing, cheering, dressed in Trump paraphernalia, waving Trump flags, and giving him, a man who claims to be a billionaire, money. What makes it even worse is that, at some rallies, he has played a recording of the January 6th insurgents singing our national anthem. These are people who are still behind bars for what they did, and they are celebrated at these rallies.

It can be pretty damn disheartening. But then I look in the mirror, and I say to myself, “Harry. Stop it! Stop that hopelessness! This is nothing new. It has always been this way. You love this country and what it has become, but it has been this way from the very beginning.”

When this country was created with the words “All men are created equal,” the founding fathers were not referring to me. They were talking about a handful of white men who owned land. They were not referring to women, immigrants, the Indigenous population, Black people, the LGBTQ community, or even to most white men (who didn’t own land).

The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution weren’t designed with us in mind. The social world that most of us inhabit in America today, the rights that we exercise daily, have been created and fought for over decades. We have these rights because we pushed and fought and died and suffered to get them, step by step, tragedy by tragedy, defeat by defeat, and victory by victory.

The 40-hour workweek, the minimum wage, food that doesn’t kill us, drugs that don’t kill us, restrictions on child labor, government requirements to keep us safe on our jobs, access for people with disabilities, the guarantee of clean water, health care for the elderly, health care for the poor, rules for safer cars, rules for safer homes. At one point, none of this existed. In fact, not long ago, we lived in a country in which men and women were denied employment and entry into restaurants, restrooms, public transportation, movie theaters, hotels, public schools, the nation’s colleges and universities, and educational institutions they supported with their tax money because of the color of their skin or their religion.

The America we live in today is not the America we inherited from our founders. It’s the one we built by voting, by protesting, by agitating, by demanding, by being arrested, by getting into “some good trouble, necessary trouble,” as civil rights icon, former member of Congress, and my hero, John Lewis, would say.

We got these rights by fighting, not on some faraway battlefield but right here at home.

In my anger and my grief over what happened on January 6th, I have, at times, forgotten that very important lesson that Americans teach me every day as I stand my post at the Capitol. Ensuring and protecting our rights is continuous. Making this country better for all of us never ends. We fight not for one day. but for every day.

Unfortunately, too many of us forgot that important lesson, and we took our eyes off the ball in 2016 and allowed Donald Trump to be elected—Donald Trump and everything that came with him, including a resurgence in overt racism and neo-Nazism, and the appointment of three far-right justices who eliminated federal protection for women’s reproductive rights and affirmative action, among other life-changing legislation.

The lesson for me, and I think for all Americans who want to protect their freedoms, is to be diligent, to be steadfast. We cannot falter. We cannot flinch. We must honor our heroes and sheroes who created the America we live in by continuing their work.

So when I think about Trump and his madness these days, I don’t feel despair. I am fired up. I am committed to putting him in jail and fighting off all the minions who carry his poisonous, destructive message.

Part of my inspiration is the men and women I fought with on January 6th. They never backed down. I remember how, while we were fighting against the insurrectionists, sometimes the pepper and bear spray would be too much, so officers would come inside and clear their eyes with water. But as soon as they got a second breath, they rushed back to the front. They never stopped. They never quit.

I promise I will do the same. I will always be standing my ground.

Adapted with permission from STANDING MY GROUND: A Capitol Police Officer's Fight for Accountability and Good Trouble After January 6th. Copyright © 2023. Available from Hachette Books, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

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