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Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards reminds us what heroism looks like

U.S. Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards, who was the first law enforcement officer injured by rioters storming the Capitol grounds on January 6, testifies during a hearing by the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol on June 09, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Long after Trump takes his place among history’s reviled strongmen, Caroline Edwards’ courage will be celebrated and remembered

Every Republican who’s ever denied, or tried to minimize, the hideously destructive reality of the violence at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, should be required to sit and listen to the testimony of Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards.

And if it takes strapping them into a chair, and propping their eyelids open, “A Clockwork Orange” style, then so be it.

In riveting testimony last Thursday night, in a tone that never rose beyond calm professionalism, Edwards told the U.S. House Select Committee, and a nationwide television audience, that the violence was “something like I had seen out of the movies.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes, Edwards, 31, said, according to the Washington Post. “There were officers on the ground. They were bleeding. They were throwing up … I saw friends with blood all over their faces. I was slipping in people’s blood.”

Slipping in people’s blood. Let that sink in for a minute. That’s not hyperbole. That’s the horrifying reality that Edwards and other law enforcement officers who were defending the seat of American democracy faced on that tragic day; a day that cost some of her colleagues their lives.

The same Republicans who solemnly lectured the rest of us that Blue Lives mattered during our summer of civil rights unrest in 2020, should be required to answer, specifically, why these same blue lives do not matter now. They should be required to explain, in the well of the U.S. House and Senate, how they justified dismissing the marauding band behind the attempted coup on Jan. 6 2021, as “tourists.”

Because there is no explanation that justifies what happened that day.

In excruciating detail on Thursday night, the bipartisan U.S. House panel investigating the attack alleged that two groups supporting former President Donald Trump planned the riot to stop the transfer of presidential power, even as Trump tacitly endorsed the the insurrection, and turned a deaf ear to the murderous crowd’s calls to hang former Vice President Mike Pence.

In an opening statement, the panel’s chairman, U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., explicitly stated that Trump was “at the center” of a “sprawling, multi-step conspiracy aimed at overturning the presidential election,” and that he and his GOP allies in Congress attempted to “[throw] out the votes of millions of Americans – your votes – your voice in our democracy – and [replace] the will of the American people with his will to remain in power after his term ended.”

U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, of Wyoming, one of two Republicans on the committee, said GOP lawmakers close to Trump, including U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-10th District, sought presidential pardons after the attack. There is one only one reason someone seeks a pardon: Because they have committed a crime. In this case, illegally trying to topple the election.

Cheney, who has been ostracized by her own party, and who could very well lose her job during Wyoming’s primary election later this summer, condemned her Republican colleagues who have condoned the violence, and who have continued to spread the myth of a stolen election.

“Tonight, I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible: There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone,” she said, according to Capital-Star Washington Reporter Jacob Fischler. “Your dishonor will remain.”

New video footage the committee aired on Thursday night showed just how close we came to losing our democracy on Jan. 6, 2021, how close we came to sliding into the thuggish authoritarianism still embraced by Trump and far too many Republicans.

It was a reminder of how very fragile the American experiment continues to be, and of our ongoing responsibility to guard it, and to nurture it, so that it does not, as Abraham Lincoln warned on the fields of Gettysburg, “perish from the earth.”

Caroline Edwards, the granddaughter of a Korean War veteran, knew her duty and stepped up to do it, perhaps at a lifelong cost.

Her grandfather, who was wounded at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, “lived the rest of his days with bullets and shrapnel in his legs, but never once complained about his sacrifice,” she said.

“I would like to think that he would be proud of me,” Edwards continued. “Proud of his granddaughter that stood her ground that day, and continued fighting even though she was wounded, like he did many years ago.”

Long after Trump takes his place among history’s reviled strongmen, and his allies among their cowardly henchmen, the courage of Caroline Edwards, Liz Cheney, and others who stood up for the Constitution, will be celebrated and remembered.

It’s up to us to make sure our democracy endures so that can happen. Otherwise, those sacrifices will have been in vain. That’s the debt we owe them.

John L. Micek is the editor-in-chief of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, which first published this essay.

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Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards reminds us what heroism looks like