What we saw on January 6 at the Capitol was shocking. Americans used to a peaceful transfer of power witnessed something they had imagined happened only on foreign lands. A mob. A riot. Their center of power under a siege.
Much has been written about how unprepared the Metro DC police and the DC Capitol police were for the events of January 6. The planning for gathering and rioting, including discussions about entering the Capitol, had been on social media weeks earlier. There were many news media reports on the topic. Was the endangerment of the lawmakers preventable? Certainly. The DC Mayor claims to have asked for help in advance and independently, the Pentagon claims to have offered help three days earlier. It is unclear why the Metro DC police and DC Capitol police had no help and were understaffed.
Much also has been written about the police response to the events of the day criticizing their handling of the mob. Their ineptitude could have led to multiple lawmakers and their staffers becoming casualties. On the spot thinking by a few protected most people and most documents.
Five people, including a policeman, died because of the rioting on January 6. Imagine what would have happened if a swash buckling police, clearly overwhelmed by a much larger mob, decided to engage the armed rioters. How many might have died? Surely the rioters were zealous, unlawful, and even dangerous. But a vast majority of them were aroused by the frenzy of the occasion and joined in, perhaps without aiming to cause physical harm. The police were right to hold fire. Once they got the lawmakers and their staffers to their safety, they avoided most bloodshed. Five dead is too many!
A lot of criticism has focused rightly on what the police did not do. But they did do something right: show individual and collective restraint in an extremely volatile situation. What will it take for that restraint to become a model for all police on handling everyone in America and every protest? What will restrain the police from firing bullets at a man who is running away or driving away? What will stop the next George Floyd from dying under a knee?