Politics

Battling the Mob, a Black Officer Came Face to Face With Racism

WASHINGTON — The racist slurs hurled at Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn during the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol were cited as evidence last month in the Senate’s impeachment trial of former President Donald J. Trump. Up until this week, Officer Dunn has remained anonymous.

Now, Dunn, 37, a Black officer who is a 13-year veteran of the force and grew up in nearby Prince George’s County, is ready to speak out with his name about the violence and racism he experienced at the hands of a pro-Trump mob during that dark day in American history.

Standing 6-foot-7 with a muscular frame, Officer Dunn is an imposing figure, but he says the bigotry and trauma he experienced that day were enough to intimidate anyone. Now that he’s talking about his experience, he says other Black officers have told him that they, too, experienced racist slurs from the mob that day.

“So many people, for whatever reason, aren’t talking,” Officer Dunn said in an interview with The New York Times. “I just want to give a voice for us.”

The interview has been edited for length, clarity and offensive language.

How did Jan. 6 start for you? Were you worried?

It was a protest day. We deal with protests here all the time. People come up here because they’re angry about something. It could be anything. It could be displeasure with the Affordable Care Act or a Supreme Court nominee or whatever it is. For a regular officer on the ground, we were thinking: “Here we go. Let’s get through this day. And then go back to normal.”

When did you realize things were turning bad?

I got a message from one of my friends. It was a screenshot from maybe an Instagram page or something like that and it said they were storming the Capitol and to be ready for a fight. It was around 9 in the morning. I started work at 7. But I didn’t really get a sense things were turning bad until they found the pipe bombs at the R.N.C. [Republican National Committee] in the afternoon. Then, a couple minutes later, we found a second one. I thought, “Holy crap, what the hell is going on?” The crowd started growing in size, and now you’re like, “OK, something’s about to happen.” People are getting more agitated and then, boom. The next thing you know, we’re fighting with the people on the west lawn of the Capitol. That’s where it started.

Did you notice a difference between the small crowd that had been protesting all morning in front of the Capitol and the mob that marched from the Trump rally and began attacking from the west lawn of the Capitol?

On the west lawn, those were the people that came from the rally. Those are the ones that started the violence.

What was the moment when your physical safety felt most in danger?

Shoot, man, the whole day. At one point, I was out there on the inaugural platform. I had this rifle, and I’m literally aimed in at the crowd. They’re fighting. They’re throwing smoke bombs. These were terrorists. They had weapons, and they were attacking us. They had flags that said “Come and Take It” with a picture of a gun. You know that these guys are fricking armed. And I’m thinking, “I got my gun pointed at these guys, and I can’t concentrate on one person. But 100 people could concentrate on me. And they could take me out right here on this stage. How long is it before I get shot?”

OK, at this point, you’re still some distance from the rioters. Tell me about when you first made physical contact with the mob.

Once they started to break the line is when I actually made contact and started defending myself and the building. It was just holding the line with other officers.

Did you have a shield or any other protective gear?

My fists are pretty protective. By the end, I had blood on my knuckles and swelling.

You are a big guy.

There were a couple punches. By a couple, I mean a lot. I didn’t even pick up my baton. My pepper spray? I didn’t deploy that until well into the fight, because I realized, “Oh crap, I have this — why don’t I use these tools?”

So you were outside the building to begin the day. How did you end up inside?

Once they breached the building, some of us decided to team up in teams of two and go inside the building. The M.P.D. [Metropolitan Police Department] guys had arrived and they were holding the line so valiantly. They fought their asses off, and I want to make sure they get credit.

Absolutely. I was there that day. I watched how the D.C. Police Department put down the riot — once their officers arrived on the scene with riot gear. What happened next?

Inside, we were getting overrun. The teams of two ended up getting separated. Now we’re just one-man units. It was so confusing because everybody was everywhere. They didn’t just come through the doors; they came through the windows. We were just outmatched. This fight starts going on for hours. You’ve got a mask on. There’s OC spray [a kind of pepper spray] in the air. All these factors are contributing to officer fatigue. Everybody’s just running on adrenaline, just pure adrenaline.

Capitol Riot Fallout

From Riot to Impeachment

The riot inside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, followed a rally at which President Trump made an inflammatory speech to his supporters, questioning the results of the election. Here’s a look at what happened and the ongoing fallout:

    • As this video shows, poor planning and a restive crowd encouraged by President Trump set the stage for the riot.
    • A two hour period was crucial to turning the rally into the riot.
    • Several Trump administration officials, including cabinet members Betsy DeVos and Elaine Chao, announced that they were stepping down as a result of the riot.
    • Federal prosecutors have charged more than 70 people, including some who appeared in viral photos and videos of the riot. Officials expect to eventually charge hundreds of others.
    • The House voted to impeach the president on charges of “inciting an insurrection” that led to the rampage by his supporters.

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