Commentary: Nation’s top politicians experienced a violent riot; Will they learn a key lesson from it?

The tragic events of Jan. 6, when rioters invaded the U.S. Capitol, were poignantly captured in edited videos played by House impeachment prosecutors this week. The footage showing what happened was emotional and harrowing. The breaking glass, the smashed doors, the mob’s running battles with Capitol police.

Many of the nation’s top politicians were terrified, cowering in their offices and other locations, fearful for their lives. Reporters covering the impeachment trial described the footage as “visceral,” “shocking,” “horrible,” “dark,” “haunting,” “packing enormous emotional punch.”

Stories told by individual lawmakers were also chilling. House prosecutor Jamie Raskin became emotional as he described having his daughter with him in the Capitol and being afraid for her life. Many members of Congress prayed and pleaded for help.

And, as has been emphasized many times, the actions of Capitol police were heroic as they fought the insurrection.

So, there are many lessons and takeaways from this most publicized, best documented riot in U.S. history. It’s clearly the riot that has caused the most outrage and indignation ever.

Whether or not Trump is ultimately convicted, here’s one thing I really hope will be learned: The nation’s top leaders, especially Democrats, having experienced what they experienced, should demonstrate more empathy and more understanding for the thousands of victims of last summer’s violent riots, and for the police officers who stepped in to fight the mobs and protect people and property from mobsters in many cities across the country.

Because, the reality is, as bad and unforgettable as the Capitol invasion was, as traumatic and intense as it was, last summer’s riots in many cities were far worse, with far more victims, far more deaths, with burning buildings, looting, far more police officers injured, and $2 billion in damage.  

Just as members of Congress feared for their lives as they cowered in their offices, I hope they might have more sympathy for the small shop owners, cowering in their back rooms, wondering if they might be killed, as rioters broke windows, smashed doors, looted, and set shops and police precincts on fire.

I hope members of Congress will praise the police officers who stood against the rioters in the cities as heroes, not as “storm troopers” and some have called them. I hope they would be more willing to call out the National Guard, as it was called out to protect them – instead of criticize use of the Guard as “militarizing” the streets of U.S. cities.

I hope they will no longer offer to pay bail for those arrested in riots (as Kamala Harris did). I’m sure members of Congress would be outraged if anyone offered to pay bail for those arrested at the Capitol melee.

Also, an unarmed woman who had lived an exemplary life was shot and killed by a Capitol officer as she unlawfully tried to go through a window into a section of the Capitol. The officer is being supported and praised by politicians for “doing what he had to do.” I don’t disagree with that. But I hope Democratic politicians who have criticized and vilified police officers for using deadly force will now appreciate their service. I hope they will support officers across the country, not just those who protected them in the Capitol.

I give the Capitol officer the full benefit of the doubt. He was in a very difficult situation and had to make a split-second decision in the heat of the moment. But imagine that the young woman was an unarmed young black man out on the street. Imagine a split-second decision had to be made in the heat of a difficult moment. There would be outrage and many questions. All sorts of politicians would be asking, “Did the officer really have to use deadly force?”

For the politicians involved, there’s a big difference between the Capitol riot and those during the summer. The difference is, it was all very personal for them. They were in the middle of it. They were the victims. It wasn’t academic, something they saw on TV. There were there. They were understandably terrified.    

But for the victims of the summer riots, the violence was just as personal, just as terrifying, just as abhorrent. In total, it was far more destructive, far more dangerous, than what happened at the Capitol, with a much greater human toll — 2,000 officers hurt, at least 30 deaths.

Having experienced a riot themselves, I hope some of the politicians will no longer misquote Martin Luther King and justify violent riots as the “language of the unheard.”

So, among the many lessons to be learned from the tragic events of Jan. 6, I hope America’s top politicians will be more supportive of the victims of other riots, more appreciative of the police who protect us, and less tolerant of the mobs and thugs who loot and burn and terrify others.