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Police who responded to the Capitol attack are awarded the Congressional Gold Medal

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

To Capitol Hill now, where top leaders today awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to police officers who responded to the insurrection on January 6, 2021. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi presented Congress' highest honor.

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NANCY PELOSI: And in accepting this medal, you bring luster to this award, just as you bring luster to the Congress and the Constitution of the United States.

KELLY: NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh reports on the tribute.

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UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL GROUP: (Singing) Oh, say, can you see by the dawn's...

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Standing in the Capitol Rotunda, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said, no matter how much time passes, January 6 still always feels like yesterday. He was on the Senate floor when an officer and his security detail whisked him away.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: And he grabbed me by the jacket as we ran out of the chamber. At one point, I was within 30 feet of the rioters.

WALSH: He recounted how officers threw themselves between lawmakers and the mob.

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SCHUMER: On the day democracy faced maximum danger, these public servants responded with maximum valor.

WALSH: Tuesday, exactly 23 months after the brutal assault launched by far-right-wing extremists, the police received the highest accolade lawmakers can bestow. Previous gold medal recipients include war heroes, civil rights leaders and astronauts. Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger paid tribute to those officers who died, reciting names of those who succumbed to injuries and those who died by suicide. More than 140 officers were injured.

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TOM MANGER: It was a day unlike any other in our nation's history. And for us, it was a day defined by chaos, courage, tragic loss and resolve.

WALSH: Robert Contee, chief of D.C.'s police department, said many officers still carry the physical and emotional scars after the violent attack.

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ROBERT CONTEE: The sound of metal poles and other objects striking the bodies, helmets and shields may still ring loudly, the air still thick with bear spray and other chemicals.

WALSH: For many of Contee's officers, the ceremony was their first time back to the capital. As they sat in the room that was the scene of violence, the emotions were still raw. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell praised officers who ran toward the danger that day.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: And when an unhinged mob tried to come between the Congress and our constitutional duty, the Capitol Police fought to defend not just this institution but our system of self-government.

WALSH: Tuesday's event was somber but not free of politics. Since the attacks, some Republicans have downplayed the violence. Most have refused to publicly fault President Trump for his role in inciting the mob. Family members of an officer who died greeted Pelosi and Schumer but declined to shake hands with McConnell or the top House Republican Kevin McCarthy. The attack also exposed communications and training failures within those agencies who responded. In an interview with NPR ahead of the ceremony, Manger said those issues have largely been fixed, but he's still worried about ongoing threats.

MANGER: I do lose some sleep over the fact that some of these extremist groups are still active. And, of course, as we learn, you know, extremist groups learn as well.

WALSH: The House committee investigating the attack is expected to release its report this month. The panel wants to make sure the police won't have to put their lives on the line again to protect democracy. Deirdre Walsh, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF BADBADNOTGOOD AND GHOSTFACE KILLAH SONG, "GUNSHOWERS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.