The reckoning of the Capitol riots is up to us

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Of all the horrific details coming to light about the riots in Washington, D.C. last week, two have left me with strange, emotional bruises.

Here’s the first. As the pro-Trump rioters rampaged through the Capitol building forcing lawmakers to rush for safety, a group of young staffers for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had no choice but to take cover in a conference room within her office. They barricaded the door, turned off the lights, and hid under a table—in silence—for two and a half hours and listened to the madness outside. Here’s the part I can’t shake: It was a survival tactic they learned from growing up with active shooter drills in school. 

Here’s the second. 

Footage from inside the Capitol showed a Black Capitol Police officer, later identified by CNN as Eugene Goodman, make a split-second decision to encourage an angry mob to follow him away from the Senate chambers by using himself as bait. Igor Bobic, a politics reporter at Huffington Post, captured the tense moment in a video he posted on Twitter.  In it, you can see Goodman glance quickly to the left at the open door to the Senate floor which had not yet been fully evacuated. He then lightly pushed one of the rioters to get his attention, and taunted them to follow him to the right and up a set of stairs where more police were waiting. He may have saved lives.

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), chair of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight, made his feelings plain. “As Trump’s fascist mob ransacked the US Capitol, this brave USCP officer kept murderous rioters away from the Senate chamber and saved the lives of those inside. God bless him for his courage,” he tweeted.

Goodman had the benefit of his professional training, of course. But nobody trains you to find a way to do your job as a lone Black man facing down a hate-fueled mob carrying weapons, Confederate flags, and Nazi cosplay gear. 

Well, now that I think about it, America has done a pretty good job reminding Black people that they’re not welcome in their own country, and school kids that there’s nothing to be done about mass violence. We need to start connecting these dots.

Goodman clearly had his hands full on many fronts. Other Black police officers told Buzzfeed News that they had been repeatedly called the N-word while being attacked by well-trained and fully-armed rioters. Some were law enforcement from across the country, flashing their badges and demanding to be admitted. One officer reported a white colleague taking selfies with insurrectionists, who were adorned with white supremacy symbols. “That one hurt me the most because I was on the other side of the Capitol getting my ass kicked,” said the officer.

The aptly named Mr. Goodman and the young staffers who work at the Capitol are the best of us today, people who found a way to do their jobs under unimaginable circumstances. But here’s the thing of it: These circumstances were clearly imaginable and completely preventable. As more violence is planned out in the open, the shrugging and lukewarm calls for unity are a familiar abomination that has allowed racism and violence to continue unabated throughout our history.

The first thing Mr. Goodman and the staffers did right was correctly assess the threat they were facing. If the United States is going to recover, we will need to do the same thing.

Ellen McGirt
@ellmcgirt
Ellen.McGirt@fortune.com

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