The Washington Post has a long article on the events of last January 6, focusing on the experience of Capitol Police officers caught up in the riot. We get very detailed descriptions of the incidents in which officers were killed or seriously wounded, along with a summary of their worries before the fact and the pleas that, in their telling, they made in the run-up for reinforcements, only to be ignored. The distinctively 21st-century theme is the long-term trauma suffered by the officers:
It is widely known that about 150 officers from the Capitol and Metropolitan Police Departments and local agencies were injured during the violence, more than 80 from the Capitol Police alone. Less understood is how long-lasting the damage, physical and psychological, to the Capitol Police force has been, damage that informs many officers’ outrage about what they perceive as a lack of accountability for those responsible. Interviews over many months with more than two dozen officers and their families (some of whom requested not to use their full names to speak frankly without permission from the department or to protect future employment prospects in the federal government), as well as a review of internal documents, congressional testimony and medical records, reveal a department that is still hobbled and in many ways dysfunctional. Among those still on the force and those who have left, many significant injuries and psychological disorders remain, including serious traumatic brain injuries and neurological impairment, orthopedic injuries requiring surgery and rehabilitation, post-traumatic stress disorder and heightened anxiety.
There are two things I wanted to mention here. The first is that trauma among the police is a widespread and growing theme in America. Suicide is the leading cause of death among active duty officers; the suicide rate among police officers is about three times the national average. Three officers who were at the Capitol on January 6 have taken their own lives.
The cause of this are of course complex, but I think one factor specific to police work is the sense among many officers that we have sent them out a long limb to do a dirty, dangerous job and are perfectly willing to saw off the branch behind them if they mess up. The bitterness coming from the Capitol Police has been directed almost entirely at their own bosses, who they feel ignored them and let them down, stranding them in a situation they could not control. When people do dangerous work that is supposed to benefit the public, it matters a great deal to them that the public vociferously supports what they do. They need backing. I think the crisis among the contemporary American police stems exactly from this: they can't handle, psychologically, doing their jobs and simultaneously feeling that the people despise them. The armchair liberal solution – well, if you want public support, stop shooting people, and start turning in your comrades who shot, beat, or frame people – is hard when cops feel that they are in a war, and only other cops understand and empathize with them.
The second is the overall theme we have been discussing here for years, the prominent place of trauma in our models of psychology. In much of what I read it seems like processing trauma is pretty much the only thing in psychology. And not to dismiss that, but it does feel strange to me to read a long, anniversary piece about a violent attempt to reverse a presidential election that focuses mainly on the trauma suffered by people caught up in the riot. All I can guess is that the Post's editors think focusing on personal trauma will get people to care about these events that political analysis will not.