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Riot in DC reaches way beyond just politics

Five people have now died after pro-Trump protests in Washington turned violent Wednesday and hundreds, perhaps thousands, poured unbridled into the U.S. Capitol building, overpowering the thin police line.

By now, we’ve all seen the shocking video footage and photographs.

Since then, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has ordered flags to be flown at half-staff in honor of the latest casualty from the melee, Capitol police Officer Brian Sicknick, 42. The officer died Thursday night from injuries sustained after he was struck in the head by a fire extinguisher apparently hurled by a protester as the mob stormed into the building.

The Capitol, of course, is a public facility, but it has remained closed to visitors for many months now, due to COVID-19. And even when it is open to the public, security usually is tight.

Initial shock turned to disbelief as our newspaper’s staff gathered around newsroom televisions Wednesday afternoon, watching spellbound as the events unfolded.

My sons, both now young adults, sent me text messages seeking more details from their journalist-mom about the death and destruction. Later, when we spoke in person, they commented on our family’s sightseeing trip to D.C. five years ago, and recalled in wild disbelief how we had stood inside the House chamber just in front of the Speaker’s desk.

Appalling video footage shown repeatedly Wednesday on national television depicted a protester, now identified by investigators as Richard Barnett of Arkansas, sitting at that very desk with his boots up snapping selfies of himself.

My son commented about the irony of that image since photography was so strictly prohibited in that chamber when we had visited in August 2015.

In response to my request at that time, aides of our congressman, Rep. Tim Ryan, had obliged and taken my family on a tour that included a trek through the underground tunnel from Ryan’s D.C. office building and into the Capitol. We walked through the Rotunda, toured Statuary Hall and stood inside the revered congressional chamber, with the aide pointing out details like the balcony seat where the president’s spouse traditionally sits during the State of the Union address.

It was from that balcony that it’s been reported the protester had climbed down into the chamber to perch at Pelosi’s desk, apparently even scrawling a disparaging note to her.

I recall being advised in 2015 by our tour guide to leave our bags, cameras and cellphones on benches outside the chamber’s entrance because photography was very limited inside the hall.

The Arkansas man depicted shooting selfies there now is facing federal criminal charges.

As of Friday, 14 cases has been filed in federal district court along with 40 others in the District of Columbia Superior Court for a variety of offenses ranging from assaulting police officers to entering restricted areas of the U.S. Capitol, stealing federal property and threatening lawmakers. Prosecutors said additional cases remained under seal, dozens of other people were being sought by federal agents and the U.S. attorney in Washington vowed that “all options were on the table” for charges, including possibly sedition.

Our nation’s Capitol is revered and sacred. Think of the history and all those who have gone there, all the presidents who have delivered State of the Union addresses there, not to mention the debate and discourse and far-reaching decisions made there about our nation’s history and future.

Sadly, amid all of Wednesday’s repugnant actions and images that have so greatly angered our nation and embarrassed us in the eyes of the world, five families are mourning their losses.

Amazingly, it seems the family of Capitol police Officer Sicknick somehow is maintaining dignity.

Sicknick’s family said Friday he had wanted to be a police officer his entire life. He served in the New Jersey Air National Guard before joining the Capitol police in 2008.

As many details regarding the incident and his death remain unknown, Sicknick’s family has asked simply that the public and media not turn his death into a political issue.

Indeed, this tragedy of massive proportions is so much more than that.

blinert@tribtoday.com

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