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Why Black Officers Find Breach Of U.S. Capitol Particularly Upsetting


Law enforcement officers were overpowered by that violent mob in the nation's Capitol last week. Disturbing videos show that police officers were kicked and punched and beaten with flagpoles. One police officer was killed and another later died by suicide off duty. But there were also a few police officers that appeared to sympathize with the mob. NPR's Leila Fadel reports that four current and retired Black police officers, it was particularly upsetting.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Last week, Sharon Blackmon-Malloy (ph) watched her former colleagues try to stave off attackers at the Capitol, a lone Black officer heroically facing a largely white mob as they first breached the building.

SHARON BLACKMON-MALLOY: A lot of them felt like they were all alone.

FADEL: Blackmon-Malloy is a retired U.S. Capitol police officer and the vice president of the United States Black Capitol Police Association, which led a class action lawsuit in 2012 against the Capitol police for alleged discrimination. She's also the lead plaintiff in the historic 2001 class action discrimination lawsuit against the Capitol Police Board. Her organization is calling for criminal charges against the sergeant at arms of the House and the Senate, as well as the former U.S. Capitol police chief who resigned after the attack.

BLACKMON-MALLOY: Because they left them unprepared.

FADEL: She's spoken to Black police officers that were at the Capitol that day. They're traumatized. Some in the crowd called them the N-word. Some are injured. They're also scared because they saw a few of their white colleagues show sympathy with the mob. Several Capitol police officers were suspended as the department investigates the attack on Congress. Among them, the officer who took selfies with rioters and another who popped on a MAGA hat and directed attackers around the building. Blackmon-Malloy says Black Capitol police officers told her this about Inauguration Day.

BLACKMON-MALLOY: And then now you expect me to go stand beside an officer not knowing whether or not he's one of the terrorists? That's what we deem them to be.

FADEL: There were some off-duty police officers from outside D.C. in the crowd. Police departments are investigating. And that's not lost on so many police officers around the country, particularly Black police officers who face discrimination on the force. Karl Shaw sued the police division of the city of Columbus for racial discrimination and settled for $475,000.

KARL SHAW: You have good police officers. And you have bad police officers. And in my case, if it wouldn't have been for white officers standing up and risking their careers, I wouldn't have had a leg to stand on. I just think we need to change the way we police and the hiring practices also.

FADEL: The settlement, which conceded no wrongdoing, included a demand, that the retaliation he faced for reporting racism by a superior be a fireable offense. Shaw retires next month.

SHAW: If you're treating Black officers this way, what are you doing to the general public?

FADEL: Heather Taylor, a recently retired sergeant from the St. Louis Police Department, was texting with other Black officers as she watched the attack on Congress. She thought about many of her fellow officers who made the assumption that Trump flags meant support for law enforcement, even when the crowds were incited by the president's lies and included hate groups. Meanwhile, Black Lives Matter protesters demanding racial justice were treated as hostile.

HEATHER TAYLOR: I don't know if they realized that these people who are extremist, who are militia, who are a part of these groups are about civil war. They want civil war. They want to do away with the government. And law enforcement has catered to them.

FADEL: Taylor most recently headed the Ethical Society of Police, a St. Louis police organization that addresses racial discrimination in the police force and the community.

TAYLOR: OK. Well, they're going to see that these people are going to turn on them, that the police are going to see that these same people that you supported over African Americans in Black Lives Matter, you're going to see that it's different, that they're going to turn on you. And sure enough, it was worse than what we could ever imagine.

FADEL: In Minneapolis, Metro Transit Police Chief Eddie Frizell says he did more planning for the Super Bowl in Minneapolis than what he saw in the Capitol last week. Now he worries about the expected armed protests around the country this weekend.

EDDIE FRIZELL: I served in Bosnia right after the war-torn genocide had taken place. And we've seen what a tyrannical regime will do to a country in Iraq. And all those experiences are all coming to a head right now. It gives me a frame of reference to take my experiences and be able to actually apply them to the unknown that we're experiencing right now.


FADEL: The unknown that we're experiencing right now. Leila Fadel, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.