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Memory Fought Back

Leonard Pitts Jr., Tribune Content Agency on

It’s not that we forget.

But sooner or later, news becomes history, and the awful thing that happened loses its power to shock. You remember the emotions you felt, but you don’t re-experience them — not to any degree of sharpness or immediacy.

One day, that will happen to the events of Jan. 6. One day, as was the case with Dec. 7 and Nov. 22, that day will primarily be one of remembered pain. But as Tuesday’s hearing into the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol vividly proved, today is not that day.

To the contrary, as four of the police officers who defended the Capitol testified in the opening session of a House select committee, the events of that day rushed back, hard. As they spoke of being cursed and beaten and gassed and Tased and crushed by white nationalists seeking to overturn the 2020 presidential election, the pain felt fresh, new and now.

To put it another way: Tuesday was Jan. 6. One suspects that, as hearings continue, that day is destined to come around often.

This is as it should be. Moreover, as it needs to be.

 

The GOP, which cannot bring itself to cut Donald Trump loose, even knowing he lost the election and that his refusal to accept it led directly to this violence, has only compounded its sin in the six months since. It has waged war on memory, effectively asking us to believe Republican lies over the testimony of our own eyes.

They tell us the insurrectionists were tourists, and “loving” and “peaceful patriots.” They tell us Ashli Babbitt, a rioter who was shot to death trying to breach a space where members of Congress were being evacuated, is some kind of martyr. They tell us House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is to blame for Trump’s insurrection. Like she’s the one who whipped up the crowd. Like it was her name on the flags they carried.

It is hogwash, yes, but hogwash in the service of obfuscation, of rushing Jan. 6 off into history — misremembered history, at that. Which is what made the testimony of those four cops so critical.

Because while the deniers may deny many things, you cannot deny the stark moral clarity of a cop who tells you he was not as frightened in Iraq as he was in Washington, a cop who couldn’t hug his wife when he got home at 4 a.m. because his uniform was saturated with chemical irritants, a cop who got called “n----r” so many times he found himself in the Capitol rotunda afterward demanding aloud, “Is this America?,” a cop who told himself, “This is how I’m going to die.”

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