On Jan. 6, a mob of mostly white Trump supporters gassed up by lies about the 2020 election being stolen attacked the U.S. Capitol in an effort to disrupt the certification of the vote. A member of that mob, Ashli Babbitt, was shot and killed by a police officer as she and other rioters attempted to break into a sealed-off part of the Capitol building, and a lot of conservatives suddenly did a 180 on their usual pro-cop, anti-riot stance. They made Babbitt a martyr and the officer who shot her a villain.
Now, the officer, Lt. Michael Byrd, is speaking out for the first time since the attempted coup rocked the nation.
In an interview with NBC News, Byrd explained to Lester Holt that he and a few other officers set up furniture to block the door to the room where 60 to 80 House members were being kept safe from the pack of wild MAGA-enthusiasts who were attacking the Capitol.
“Once we barricaded the doors, we were essentially trapped where we were,” Byrd said. “There was no way to retreat. No other way to get out. If they get through that door, they’re into the House chamber and upon the members of Congress.”
Byrd, who is Black, also said that all he knew about what was going on outside the area he was guarding was based on what he heard on his radio. So when he started hearing that officers were down and he could hear his fellow officers screaming while being attacked by people who must have left their usual “back the blue” mantra at home, he knew what was going on at the Capitol was more than some garden-variety protest full of gullible rubes pretending to know how our electoral process works.
“It was literally broadcast over the air,” Byrd said. “I said, ‘OK, this is getting serious.’”
Byrd said he shouted at rioters several times for them to back away from the glass door they were smashing to get into the barricaded area, and that’s when Babbitt tried to climb through one of the doors resulting in Byrd shooting her.
“I tried to wait as long as I could,” he told Holt. “I hoped and prayed no one tried to enter through those doors. But their failure to comply required me to take the appropriate action to save the lives of members of Congress and myself and my fellow officers.”
Watch a portion of the interview that aired Thursday night on NBC Nightly News.
Suffice it to say, if we were talking about a Black Lives Matter protest-turned-riot, right-wingers would have no problem accepting Byrd’s “failure to comply” reasoning. “Comply and you’ll be fine” is literally their go-to white-splanation when it comes to unarmed Black people who resist police in even the slightest way—which has never included committing acts of terrorism in government buildings in an effort to shut down democracy.
Yet, as NBC noted, “Her death became a rallying cry for the far right, which described Babbitt as a martyr. Trump himself declared that she had been murdered and suggested, falsely, that the officer who shot her worked for a high-ranking Democrat.”
Imagine that: the man whose “big lie” prompted the riot in the first place—and who never passed on an opportunity to shout down BLM protesters and declare that their civil unrest won’t be tolerated—is suddenly calling an officer of the law a murderer for shooting a rioter. That, my friends, is the power of whiteness in action.
Despite the loudness and wrongness of Trump and his know-nothing cult members, Byrd was cleared of all wrongdoing by the Justice Department and the Capitol Police.
“The investigation revealed no evidence to establish that, at the time the officer fired a single shot at Ms. Babbitt, the officer did not reasonably believe that it was necessary to do so in self-defense or in defense of the Members of Congress and others evacuating the House Chamber,” federal prosecutors said in a statement.
Byrd also appears to still be certain he did nothing wrong that day. He said that because the furniture was stacked up to block the way in, “It was impossible for me to see what was on the other side.”
All he could see was Babbitt trying to climb through the broken glass.
“I could not fully see her hands or what was in the backpack or what the intentions are,” Byrd said. “But they had shown violence leading up to that point.”
Byrd feels that, at the end of the day, he did much more good than harm in protecting Congress members from Babbitt and the other rioters.
“I know that day I saved countless lives,” Byrd told. “I know members of Congress, as well as my fellow officers and staff, were in jeopardy and in serious danger. And that’s my job.”
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