Four police officers have died by suicide in the months since they spent hours battling a pro-Trump mob who stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to violently stop the congressional certification of Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory on Jan. 6.
Yet another, Officer Brian Sicknick, died the day after the battle. While the official coroner’s report says Sicknick died of natural causes, I agree with the sentiment expressed by Sicknick’s colleague, Officer Harry Dunn, who began his congressional testimony on the January insurrection by requesting a moment of silence for Sicknick. Dunn said that Sicknick “died from injuries he sustained in the line of duty defending the Capitol of our beloved democracy.”
The physical and psychological beating the officers endured that day has inflicted great harm. And while we don’t know that the trauma of Jan. 6 is the only thing driving these suicides, at least one expert says it’s unusual for numerous officers from a single crime scene to kill themselves.
“Seeing so many officers from one incident who are taking their own lives — I have not seen it happen before,” Steve Hough of First HELP, which assists first responders with mental health, told Axios. “So, we owe it to them not only as citizens, but their administration owes that to them to take care of them and get them any type of assistance they may need.”
Hough is right. Any organization that claims to serve the needs of police officers should be front and center right now. Considering that five officers with ties to the Jan. 6 insurrection — which also claimed the lives of four civilians — have died, I have to wonder: Where is the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP)? Why isn’t it holding news conferences to denounce the mob that physically attacked its members, like local FOP president John McNesby did when he called peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters “rabid animals”? Why hasn’t it staunchly defended the split-second decision of the officer who shot and killed rioter Ashli Babbitt, like it did when a Columbus, Ohio, police officer killed Ma’Khia Bryant? Most importantly, why isn’t it publicly advocating for the officers who endured hours of brutal hand-to-hand combat to receive all the mental and physical health care they require?
I’m baffled that we haven’t heard more righteous indignation from those who took great pains to tell us that Blue Lives Matter. But out of all the organizations that have taken little or no action concerning the deaths of these officers, I am most shocked by the tepid response of the FOP, which says it has over 356,000 members and touts itself as the largest law enforcement labor organization in the United States.
On the day of the Capitol attack, national FOP president Patrick Yoes released a statement condemning the violence by the so-called “demonstrators” and calling on President Donald Trump to “forcefully urge” his followers to “stop their unlawful activity.” Then on July 27, the FOP released a subsequent statement offering “our support, gratitude, and love to our brothers and sisters in law enforcement who successfully fought off the rioters.” The statement said the FOP would “be with them as they grieve and recover, however long that may take.”
But when CNN anchor Don Lemon asked Dunn what the FOP had done in the wake of an incident that left physical and psychological scars that could take a lifetime to heal, Dunn said he hasn’t heard much of anything.
The double standard is appalling. The FOP was quick to talk about “the demonization of police” when Americans took to the streets to demonstrate against the police killings of unarmed Black people, but it has not been front and center to denounce the armed white mob that injured so many of its members.
If the FOP wants to be the group to support officers, it should be that, no matter who its adversary is perceived to be. Instead, the FOP and the rest of the Blue Lives Matter crowd are largely silent at a time when police officers need them the most.
There should be outrage from the FOP. It should lash out at those who lashed out at its officers. It should file suit against those responsible for the riot. It should be publicly demanding that the officers who served on Jan. 6 get the treatment they deserve.
I believe it’s not doing so because of race and politics. The FOP, like the violent mob that stormed the Capitol, supports Trump and said so in its September endorsement of the former president. There is also the fact that off-duty police were among those who stormed the Capitol. And, of course, that the mob was overwhelmingly white prompted a different tone and tenor to the FOP’s response.
But when the people who count on you are harmed, it shouldn’t matter what their adversary looks like. The only thing that matters is that you do something. The FOP has seemingly stood down — even as its members die alone.