President Joe Biden on Thursday signed into law a bill that honors the Capitol Police, Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department and other law enforcement agencies with Congressional Gold Medals for protecting lawmakers from pro-Trump insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for protecting our Capitol,” Biden said at the White House.
Vice President Kamala Harris said by securing the Capitol, the officers “secured our democracy.”
“These officers are heroes,” she said. “And these officers are patriots. And they deserve, today and every day, this honor. Our nation is grateful for your service.”
The medals are provided to individuals or institutions as Congress’ “highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions,” according to the website of the House historian. Four medals will be displayed: one in the Capitol Police headquarters, one in Metropolitan Police Department headquarters, one in the Capitol and one in the Smithsonian Institution. Plaques will be installed in the Smithsonian and the Capitol that list all law enforcement agencies that participated in protecting the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“I think it’s great and well deserved,” Gus Papathanasiou, leader of the Capitol Police union, said in a text message.
Recipients of the honor include George Washington, Rosa Parks and the Navajo Code Talkers of World War II.
The measure passed the House in June, with 21 Republicans voting against bestowing the honor to law enforcement. Earlier this week, the Senate passed that same legislation without any opposition — by unanimous consent.
Officers endured grisly beatings by pro-Trump rioters during the Capitol attack. More than 140 combined MPD and Capitol Police officers were injured.
MPD Officer Daniel Hodges told the Jan. 6 select committee that he was crushed in a doorway and that one man tried to gouge out his eye. Hodges’ lip was bashed, and his skull was injured. A rioter told him: “You will die on your knees.”
Former President Donald Trump described the crowd at the Ellipse that violent day as “loving.” Some Republicans in Congress, such as Rep. Andrew Clyde of Georgia, have sought to cast one of the darkest days for American democracy as not an insurrection and have equated it to a tourist visit. Clyde was among the 21 House Republicans who voted against awarding the gold medals to law enforcement. Other GOP members who voted against the bill include Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, Chip Roy of Texas and Ralph Norman of South Carolina.
Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell, an Army veteran who served in Iraq, said that during the fighting in the lower west terrace, he could feel himself “losing oxygen” and recalled thinking, “This is how I’m going to die — defending this entrance.”
Beyond physical injuries, the officers were denigrated by the pro-Trump mob and called “traitors.” Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn was called a racial slur by a woman in a pink MAGA shirt, and then a crowd proceeded to repeat that slur at Dunn. He said he still goes to therapy and participates in peer support groups.
To date, four officers have died by suicide since the insurrection: MPD Officers Gunther Hashida, Kyle DeFreytag and Jeffrey Smith and Capitol Police Officer Howard Liebengood.
Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick died shortly after the insurrection, and Capitol Police Officer William “Billy” Evans died April 2 after an assailant slammed a car into him and Officer Kenny Shaver.
“We can’t allow the heroism of these officers to be forgotten,” Biden said.