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.

At one point, I confronted a group of terrorists in the crypt. There were downed officers behind me, and, I’m like, “I have to hold this hallway.” I’m tired, but I said, “Y’all not coming through here.” They said, “We’re coming. This is our house. We’re taking over.” That’s when I said, “We’ve got dozens of downed officers here. Why are y’all doing this? Get out!” I guess it was a group of the Oathkeepers and they appeared to be concerned. “Officers are hurt?” That’s when one guy said, “We’re doing this for you,” and showed me his badge. He was an officer. But they didn’t get through me. Only one person attempted to get through me at that time, and he met the floor. He met the floor. Finally, officers with armored gear responded and held that area.

Now, there was a moment when racist slurs were used against you.

So I run up the stairwell. There’s people freaking everywhere. They saw I came from an area that wasn’t occupied by terrorists. So they tried to go down the steps. I said, “No, you’re not going down there.” And I’m exhausted. They’re saying, “Trump is our rightful president. Nobody voted for Joe Biden.” I needed to catch my breath. So I said, “I voted for Joe Biden. What? My vote doesn’t matter?” A woman responded, “This [slur] voted for Joe Biden!” Everybody that was there started joining in. “Hey, [slur]!” It was over 20 people who said it.

Later, you broke down in the Rotunda.

Once the F.B.I. and all these other officers arrived, the Capitol started getting cleared out and more secure. The officers who had been fighting from the start, a lot of us just sat down on the floor. There was trash everywhere. The smoke was thick. I saw one of my buddies who I’ve known basically since I’ve been on the department, and we just looked at each other. And we just started talking about the day and how we were hurting. A war is made up of 100 battles. We were all in the war, but we all had different battles. A lot of us Black officers fought a different battle than everybody else fought. I said to my buddy, “I got called [slur] a couple dozen times today.” I’m looking at him. He’s got blood on him. I’ve got bloody knuckles. We’re hurting. That’s when I said, “Is this America?” and I started crying. Tears are coming down my face. “Is this America?”

I know you want to stay away from politics, but how did you feel when your experience was referenced in the impeachment trial?

At that time, I hadn’t gone public yet. But a lot of people knew my story. I was in the middle of the Rotunda crying. I was loud. I didn’t hide it. I was starting to heal, and it kind of brought me back there all over again. It was rough time.

How has the impact of the violence of Jan. 6 been on officers’ mental health?

It took a horrific toll on us. Counselors have been available, but I think a lot of people are reluctant to use them. Mental health has always been a stigma. Nobody wants to talk about it. If you appear to be broken or hurt, you’re weak. Now people are wondering, “Can I even go tell them that I’m not OK without them taking my gun from me and losing my job?” I want people to know it’s OK and it’s normal to feel a certain kind of way.

Did you know Brian Sicknick, the Capitol Police officer who collapsed and died after the attack?

We worked together. He was a great man, a great person, somebody that you would want to work with. He did his job. He was somebody that you could trust.

There’s been a lot of praise of Officer Eugene Goodman, who led the rioters away from the senators, including Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah. He was a hero, absolutely. But you’ve said there were many officers whose names the public doesn’t know who were heroes that day.

People fought their asses off. Eugene was great. He did his job. He did it heroically, literally, in the face of danger. So many people did that that day. So many freaking people. We’ve got officers who suffered concussions and got attacked. So many people fought so bravely. There were so many Eugene Goodmans that day. Everybody I saw fought their asses off. And they’re heroes.

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.

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

You are a big guy.

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