TheGrio Daily

The January 6th Riot: A Capitol Officer’s Survival Story

Episode 160
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“Police officers are upholding a system and the criticisms are of the system and not individual police officers.”

He’s running for Congress! Marking one of the ugliest days in this country’s history, January 6th, 2021, we listen back to when now Congressional candidate Harry Dunn spoke with our favorite Wypipologist, and host of theGrio Daily, Michael Harriot. Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn protected the U.S. Capitol and democracy on January 6th, 2021; now, he’s on a quest for truth. Officer Dunn shares his recollection of the violence that unfolded during the riot, how it changed him, and the journey he’s now on to help others with his new book, “Standing My Ground: A Capitol Police Officer’s Fight for Accountability and Good Trouble After January 6th.” The experience changed his feelings about his job, but not his dedication to standing on the front lines.

Full Transcript Below

Announcer: You are now listening the theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified.

Michael Harriot: I’m sure there are a few people you never thought you’d see on here. White Jesus, Donald Trump, and probably a policer officer. Well you’re wrong about one of those. And that’s why I want to welcome you to theGrio Daily. The only podcast that is sitting down with Harry Dunn, the Capitol police officer from January 6th.

Michael Harriot: Today we’re going to invite Capitol police officer and now author Harry Dunn to the, uh, podcast, who is the author of the book standing my ground a “Capitol Police Officers Fight for Accountability and Good Trouble after January 6th.”

So welcome to the podcast. Mr. Dunn. How are you? How are you doing? 

Officer Harry Dunn: today? Hey, Michael. I’m glad to be on with you. Uh, um, one. Well, I’m honored to be with you. I’m a big fan of your shows and I like talking with you. 

Michael Harriot: Yeah. So we’re going to jump on into it. I, uh, you know, read your book, uh, and I think, you know, other people should read it because it really is kind of an interesting, uh, you know, backstory or a look into the opposite perspective from January 6th.”

And, you know, looking at how it was seen from an officer’s standpoint. But first, I want to ask you what made you want to become a police officer? 

Officer Harry Dunn: Well, you know, in my book, I talk about, you know, I initially didn’t want to become, be a police officer. I thought I was going to be a basketball player, a football player, I had aspirations of making it to the league. I played in college and my, my short lived professional career didn’t live it didn’t work out the way you want it to be, but I’ve always had this, this inkling and I can attribute it to my parents, this inkling in me to want to serve and help people. My father’s retired veteran, the air force. So I’ve had this duty to country and to serve people. And I’ve always cared about people. I, you know, I’ve, I’ve always been looked at as the, uh, big brother type person, you know, maybe my stature at 6’7 you know, so I’ve always been bigger than people. So I’ve always had the desire. And the notion to look out for people. So, you know, why not try my hand at police, uh, at policing, which is the, my opinion, the ultimate act of, service. 

Michael Harriot: This is always interesting for me to hear those origin stories. Did you think of policing as community service and like, you know, you being a Black man in America, you have to ask, you know, how you came up with the idea that police, to equate policing with community service. 

Officer Harry Dunn: You know, so I’m fortunate, but I, you know, first of all, let’s back up. I am not going to pretend at all that there’s not a problem with the police culture in America because it definitely is. And it needs to be addressed. rectified too many people are suffering at the hands of all this system that needs overhauling. However, growing up, you know, I grew up in, you know, middle class suburban America.

And I never really had many, I can’t point to bad interactions I had with police, you know, growing up, you know, not saying that that didn’t exist. I didn’t have those interactions and I was blind to them until I started getting older and paying attention and listening to my friend’s stories and accounts that they’ve had.

So yes, I do equate it to community service, but I don’t believe that… I do, let me back up. I do believe that individuals can and have the right, every right, to be skeptical when they hear somebody’s equate the two community service and policing. 

Michael Harriot: Well, one of the things we talk about on this podcast is, you know, the unintentional conflation of those two things, right? The system and individual police officers, right? Individual police officers are upholding a system and what, you know, the criticisms are of the system and not individual police officers, right? Like you can’t criticize firemen for wetting things, right? You know, or spraying their hoses on and ruining your couch if your house was on fire.

And so I, I always want to point out because people think, well, you’re so critical of police that, you know, I thought you didn’t like police officers. You know, I’m critical of the system, right? Like you can’t get in there and make it better than the system that is around you. But I want to go move further along in your story, right?

Because When you became a Capitol police officer, you know, you talk in the book about previous protests, right? The Tea Party protests and the, uh, the, you know, other bigger protests, Million Man March. Going into, and I know the answer because I read the book, but going into the January 6th protests, was the feeling of you and your fellow officers different than even the previous protested you served in and certain been a member of protecting the people in the Capitol at? 

Officer Harry Dunn: At, you know, so first of all, I want to make clear that I don’t, you know, I, I don’t attempt or never will speak for any of my other coworkers. I begged and pleaded with others to tell their stories because everybody has a different story from that day. So what I’m telling you is my account, my experiences, and I never, you know, I got criticized for saying I was speaking for all law enforcement, not speaking for myself as an individual, as an American, as a Black man who happens to be a police officer in this country. So, you know, I just want to make that clear from the start. But, you know, going into it, you know, I thought it was just going to be a regular first amendment protest. And as you see, you know, with all the investments, the investigations that came out from the January 6th committee, the, um, Jack Smith, uh, the juries and all the cases that have been going on, that a lot of stuff was out there that we didn’t know about.

“We” meaning the frontline officers, um, that would have helped us been better prepared for, uh, what we did encounter that day. So I do, I did expect the protest, but nothing to the level. Of what, you know, January 6th wasn’t a protest. It was a riot, you know, and that’s, that’s exactly what it was. So, no, I did not expect the riot that day. 

Michael Harriot: Okay. And one of the things you asked in the book, so I know as an author myself, right? Like when you finish the book, if you ask two important questions, like why one, were you guys given so much equipment, um, you know, riot helmets and stuff like that before this, when you hadn’t received them in any other protests? And then you asked why, you know, there, some officers were specifically told like to put theirs, you know, at a distance. And then what, what you say, I think sprint to get them, if things go bad, have you received answers to those questions? 

Officer Harry Dunn: Not directly. Um, I guess one of the things that they’re working on is just making sure that what happened doesn’t happen again. Um, the story about, you know, individuals springing to their equipment, um, that was, you know, I wanted to give a platform to other individual officers who I call heroes that day, heroes and sheroes. Um, and that was a story from one of my coworkers who bravely served that day. And, um, that, that wasn’t my experience. To answer the question, no, we have not been given, I have not been given an answer to that, but I do know that they are working to make sure that those, those issues were addressed in the hearings that I’ve, I’ve watched, they were public. The Senate did hearings and, um, they had an inspector general give, um, recommendations. And, uh, those recommendations have been addressed, but, um, I don’t know the reason why, but you know. 

Michael Harriot: If you were, you know, looking back, like having it already experienced to that day, what are the changes that you would have made to keep the capital safer to keep yourself safer in your fellows, our fellow officers safer?

Officer Harry Dunn: Man, you know, that’s interesting. I’ve never been asked that before, you know, what we could have done different, you know, luckily I say this luckily, but, um, I’m just a rank and file officer. Like you said, I interact with the people. I’m not the one that’s out there making the decisions, but just looking back over it all? You know, just more people, you know, how do you stop, there wasn’t some like magic code word, we could have said like, “go home” or anything like that. What happened? How did we get the Capitol back under control? Um, we had more people, more people showed up, reinforcements showed up, help showed up. So I think if you add that to start with, then, um, I, I can’t say it wouldn’t have happened.

I mean, these individuals had the president of the United States telling them that they were right. Um, so, but I do know that. You know, more people is what helped extinguish that fire, so to speak. Um, so I guess that’s one way to think that’s what that could have helped us from the start. 

Michael Harriot: You talk about, you know, kind of seeing a online, a meme that was, or a message between some of the people who were participating in the riot, you know, explaining what they were going to do. And you kind of dismissed it. Do you think that the anticipation, like the experience that you had in other, you know protests or gatherings or rallies at the Capitol was the reason you dismissed that or like, I want to be, I want you to be honest, like, do you think it was the fact that it was just white people, like the cream of the crop, American white people, like the, the top line, white people, not kind of want to make you…

Officer Harry Dunn: I don’t think that one bit we can go, we can go to that right now. Um, you know, I think my, my reaction had to do with basically what we saw. What I saw in, uh, start year 16 in, uh, in November, middle of November. And, you know, I’ve seen all kinds of protests. I’ve seen the tea parties up there. I’ve seen, you know, the, uh, Black Lives Matter, the Million Man March. I’ve seen everything. Um, but I do believe. That, um, no, I don’t think it had anything to do with that, but nobody up until that, that day had ever attempted to do what they did on January 6th there, you know, there might’ve been officers who, you know, have pulled a hamstring or something, chasing after somebody, or, but the, the level of violence and savagery that we were treated with and we were met with by these so called patriots, um, it was be, it wasn’t because we, we did, we didn’t take them lightly because of who they were. Um, or at least I didn’t, you know, I don’t speak for everybody else, but I didn’t take them lightly because of who they were just because who, and I could have never fathomed a day where the president of the United States emboldened people to go overthrow an election.

Donald Trump: (Video From Jan 6, 2021) Now it is up to Congress to confront this egregious assault on our democracy. And after this, we’re gonna walk down and I’ll be there with you. 

Michael Harriot: I don’t want to belabor the point, but we’ve seen the officers and the groups that were protecting the Capitol react differently when there were Black protesters in the area, right? Um, I mean… 

Officer Harry Dunn: No, I gotta push back a little bit against that. Um, you know, and like I said, I can’t, I can speak just to Capitol, I’m not talking about… Metropolitan police department, your service, but Black Lives Matter did come up to the Capitol. And, you know, hell we had officers that at times took me with them in solidarity. So, you know, the response is totally different. I got to push back that we treated them differently. You know, we treat people, given their opportunity to express their first amendment right, given by the constitution, but once they cross that line and they are no longer, um, participating in, uh, freedom of expression, freedom of, uh, speech, then they turn violent like we saw January 6th, you know, we have to respond accordingly. 

Michael Harriot: Right, right, right. And again, I’m not speaking to you specifically. I’m talking about the institution and some of those, uh, you know, agencies that were protecting were at the Capitol that they were also part of the Black Lives Matter, uh, protests that we saw.

You know, a couple of months earlier, but the second question I have for you, or the next question I have for you is, has this, what happened and what you experienced, has it in any way made you look differently at this country and, you know, the political system as a whole? 

Officer Harry Dunn: No, I used to enjoy being a police officer, even when, you know, with all the, the, the, you know, I, I take it, I, I do my job honorably, you know, I treat people, whether they like me or not, you know, I, I, you know, people will look at me and just, you know, curse my name without even knowing me just, just because of the badge that I, that I wear and what it represents.

And that’s fine. You know, I, I, I don’t treat anybody differently based on how they view my profession would view me. My job is to protect and serve people. And, you know, as police officers, we’re servants, you know, we’re public servants, but that’s what we all should aim and strive to be. However, you know, after January 6th, a lot of that was stripped away from me.

I don’t have, I don’t like it anymore. I don’t find joy in it. I don’t do it because I like it. Um, I’m still here because it’s, it’s a necessary, it’s necessary now, you know, I, I used to enjoy it, but now it’s just, you know, uh, it’s like you have to do this, this, it used to, I wanted to say it was a calling, not really a calling, but it’s now it’s like, I don’t have a choice, man, you know, look, look, because of my country, the country, the country is, it’s, it’s in a hell of a state right now.

And you know, who knows if democracy is going to hold, but at least I’m feeling like I’m doing something, some little part in protecting these members or like, like you’ve referred to it, the institution that it still can stand. Um, and that’s the thing with a democracy is whether we agree with individuals or not, everybody has a say in it. And, uh, and to say it’s not by violence, which we, um, you know, protected it against on January 6th.

Michael Harriot: So, of course, I have to ask if you thought, like, if you don’t know if there’s anything that could have been done on that day, then how are you so confident that you are still protecting what we call democracy?

How, you know, like you’ve seen how fragile it is, right? And, like, you know, if you are on that front line between the ripping down of democracy, like how, and we, you, you know, that it could be easily trespassed, then how are you still confident that like you are the thing or that there is anything that, you know, that holds that line?

Officer Harry Dunn: I don’t wait, I won’t say that. I’m really completely confident. Um, I do know that it takes good people doing things or doing the right thing to keep, you know, democracy afloat, you know, I always said that, um, I call it Harryism , um, things that I like to hear or things that caught my ear, but it, until there’s nothing that can be done, there’s always something that can be done.

And um, I believe that I’m trying to do my part. I can’t do it alone. But, um, you know, hopefully I can inspire somebody or, you know, somebody watching or that’ll read my book or, or hear something that inspires them to want to do what’s, do the right thing and actually believe in public service in, in the form of a police officer and do it for the right reasons to actually help people and serve their communities.

Um, and that’s what I’m talking about with just as a police officer, but, uh, you know, It was four of us, I believe, yes four of us initially testified in the January 6 hearings. Um, But what, what if, what if none of us did, um, with that story, what the narrative of what officers have faced, would that be out there or would that just be, you know, people were allowed to make up their own narrative about what happened? And hell they’re still doing it.

Even watching the tapes and footage, people are still taking their own narratives and running with what happened and, and which is totally false about what we went through. So that’s why I think it’s important for individuals to continue to stand up. Speak out and like, you know, like the, the, the subtitle of my book, “Get in Good Trouble” because it’s, it’s necessary.

Michael Harriot: Do you see any parallels between like your condemnation or not even condemnation, but you were, you thinking about like what your fellow, fellow officers did or, or the, the lack of accountability and what a lot of Black people see from the police. Right. Like, you know, what happened to the leadership of why are they not protecting us? Um, we need to examine what happened in this specific incidents. And sometimes we don’t get the answers, the same answers that you’re looking for. Do you see any parallels in that? And does it make you think about your job differently if you do? 

Officer Harry Dunn: It makes me motivated to want to do it better. And I understand that the fractured trust that is put on these institutions, I understand it, you know, not just policing, but hell look at, look at Congress right now.

It’s, it’s so fractured and divided. And like, should we trust it? But, but what’s the alternative? What’s the alternative turning it out and doing some, I don’t know what a healthy, reasonable alternative is. So I think it’s really important for us to flood, it get, have individuals get involved and get active, good, like minded people.

Those, that’s, you know, that’s what a democracy is. And, you know, maybe I’m just this eternal optimist, but you know, hope is the only thing that we have that keeps us going, man. I don’t want to ever feel like, you know, I get, I feel like I’m defeated, but never to the point where I want to give up. You know, and it may be completely asinine.

Somebody looking at me like, yeah, this is bro delusional. Maybe, man. But you know what? It keeps me getting up and doing that, the thought that I’m helping somebody and doing what’s right. If I influence or inspire one person, then it was worth it. Hell, even if I don’t inspire nobody, you know, telling my story and continue to do, it helps me feel good about myself. Like, I know I’m doing the right thing. 

Michael Harriot: And I would argue, like, I guess, everyone feels like that, I think it is. Your belief in what you are, in the thing that you are protecting. What do you hope that when, like when someone finishes this book, what do you hope they take away from that? 

Officer Harry Dunn: So much , you know, I talk about a lot, you know, it’s, I, I immediately thought about my mental health chapter, um, in, you know, how important it is for people to, um, embrace that it’s okay to not be okay. But I think I want to take that answer. This question a little bit different than that. You know, I truly value mental health. It’s especially amongst people of color, especially Black men. Um, you know, fellas, it’s all right, you know, to not be okay, continue to uphold each other and check on each other.

But as far as, don’t be quiet, when you got a story to tell, stand up and tell your story, you know, people are going to push back against you. Um, look at, look at, look at it like war, you know, and who gets to rewrite history? The winner of war is the person who tells, you know, whose story gets told in history.

But if we are willing to not even stand up and fight, have our story told at all, you know, we don’t have a chance at all. It’s important to tell, to deflate the narrative on the other side that what happened on January 6th was legitimate political discourse. You know, how dare you, how dare you use those words when there were officers who were savagely and violently beaten. Where there were people that were seeking out to, to hang the vice president to kill Nancy Pelosi, you know, I refuse to let that narrative be hijacked. The truth, we cannot let the truth be hijacked. And I will continue to tell my story and fight for the people who were responsible for the failures of that day, whether that be a chief of police, whether it be a Congressman, whether that be the president of the United States, any and everybody who had anything to do with the failures of that day needs to be held accountable.

And that’s why I am, have been adamant about not shutting up about it even close to three years later. 

Michael Harriot: Well, I want to thank you for coming. I got one last question, man. Like, like about 15 years ago, um, I was, I know you’re not part of the Pentagon police, but I’ve made a wrong turn on, like, uh, on an accident, got off at the Pentagon and they searched my car and, uh, told me they had to, uh, And I, when I left, I realized like I had a bunch of liquor in the back, uh, in the trunk.

Cause I was planning a party. I was, uh, on base planning a party. And one of my bottles of Henny was missing, man. So you think you can get my bottle of Henny back? 

Officer Harry Dunn: Man, stop playing. 

Michael Harriot: I’m for real, man. I’m for real, man. Yeah, man. It took, uh, one of the big bottles, one of the $64 bottles too, man. So I want you to look into that, man.

Officer Harry Dunn: I’ll make sure we rectify that problem and we’d have a drink together if you’d be up for it, man. I’ll make sure to that. 

Michael Harriot: Definitely, man. Definitely, man. Um, and, and, and, you know, while you’re doing that, I’ll be telling people to not to forget to tune into theGrio to download that Grio app, to tell a friend about this podcast.

And, uh, you know, what are the things we do? On every episode is I usually leave the podcast or in the podcast with a Black saying, but you know, when I have a guest, I give them a chance to give us their favorite Black saying something your mama used to say, your grandma, or, you know, your granddaddy used to say all the time that you’ve only heard Black people say, so Mr. Dunn, tell us your, your favorite Black saying. 

Officer Harry Dunn: The first one that just came to mind is obviously “stop all that crying for I give you something to cry about”. 

Michael Harriot: That’s perfect. You should’ve told that to the January 6th people, but I want to thank you for coming. 

I want to thank everybody for watching.

Remember to tell your friends, download that Grio app and subscribe to this podcast. And remember if you were there on January 6th, stop all that crying for America gives you something to really cry about. We’ll see you next time on the theGrio Daily. If you like what you heard, please give us a five star review, download the app, subscribe to the show and share it with everyone. Please email all questions, suggestions, and compliments to podcasts@thegrio.com