Biden signs bill awarding medals to January 6 first responders

Five Capitol officers have died in connection with US insurrection attempt

US President Joe Biden shakes hands with Robert Contee III, Chief of the DC Metropolitan Police Department, after signing the bill into law at the White House. EPA
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US President Joe Biden paid tribute to law enforcement officers who responded to the January 6 Capitol insurrection by signing legislation on Thursday to award them Congressional Gold Medals for their service.

Mr Biden thanked the officers for saving the lives of members of Congress during those “tragic hours” of the attack.

The medal is the highest honour Congress can bestow. Mr Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris held a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden to sign the legislation, which was passed unanimously by the Senate this week.

Many officers were beaten and injured that day as the violent mob of former president Donald Trump’s supporters pushed past them to break into the Capitol and interrupt the certification of Mr Biden’s victory. Some of them, including four who testified at a House hearing last week, have spoken about their lasting mental and physical scars.

“My fellow Americans, let’s remember what this was all about,” Mr Biden said of the siege. “It was a violent attempt to overturn the will of the American people, to seek power at all costs, to replace the ballot with brute force. To destroy, not to build. Without democracy, nothing is possible. With it, everything is.”

The law will place the medals in four locations — Capitol Police headquarters, the Metropolitan Police Department, the US Capitol and the Smithsonian Institution.

The Senate passed the legislation by voice vote, with no Republican objections. The House passed the bill in June, with 21 Republicans who have played down the insurrection in Mr Trump’s defence voting against it.

Mr Trump, along with many Republicans still loyal to him, has tried to rebrand the rioting as a peaceful protest, even as law enforcement officers who responded that day have detailed the violence and made clear the toll it has taken on them.

The four officers who spoke in the emotional hearing the past week detailed near-death experiences as the rioters beat and crushed them on their way into the building.

At least nine people who were at the Capitol that day died during and after the rioting, including a woman who was shot and killed by police as she tried to break into the House chamber and three other Trump supporters who suffered medical emergencies.

Two police officers died by suicide in the days that immediately followed, and a third officer, Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, collapsed and died after engaging with rioters. A medical examiner determined he died of natural causes.

Last week, the DC Metropolitan Police announced that two more officers who had responded to the insurrection had died by suicide.

Officer Kyle DeFreytag was found dead on July 10 and Officer Gunther Hashida was found dead in his home last Thursday. The circumstances that lead to their deaths are unknown.

“We are grieving as a department,” the police said in a statement.

In a ceremony in which the bill was sent to the president, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday that January 6 was “a moment, a day of extraordinary tragedy for our country” and praised the Capitol Police for their bravery and patriotism.

“I’m so sad that it took a tragedy of this nature for the recognition to be given to them,” Ms Pelosi said.

Updated: August 05, 2021, 11:20 PM