At Capitol Hill, a family takes a beautiful stand

The family of a fallen officer snubbed those who failed to hold Trump accountable for the January 6 riot. It was the right thing to do.

Gladys Sicknick, the mother of slain U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, greets Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), but does not greet Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) or House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (D-CA), during a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony which honored law enforcement officers who defended the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in Washington, U.S., December 6, 2022. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein
Gladys Sicknick, the mother of slain US Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, greets Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, but does not greet Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell or House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, during a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony in Washington on December 6, 2022 [Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters]

By now, the memorable scene has likely been forgotten except by those who recognised its beauty.

It was a simple and rare gesture of resistance. It was a rebuke of hypocrisy and duplicity. It was a profound and necessary moment when a still grieving family chose principle over hollow civility.

It happened on Tuesday. Police and their loved ones had gathered together to be honoured for beating back a Donald Trump-inspired mob on January 6, 2021. The mob’s sinister intent was to ransack Congress in order to halt the democratic transfer of power and keep a defeated, delusional authoritarian in power.

They failed. They failed, in large measure, because of the courage of police officers, like Brian Sicknick, who remained faithful to their duty and fulfilled their oath to defend the US constitution against all enemies – foreign and domestic.

Sicknick gave his life to protect the lives of people – elected and unelected – who were in harm’s way on that violent, cacophonous day. Many other officers still bear and tend to the scars of mind and body – the permanent residue of a mad insurrection that tested the seat of an already frayed American democracy.

They could have wilted in the face of being outnumbered. They could have retreated when confronted by the rampaging gang. Instead, the police stood fast as best as they could. And because of their bravery and abiding sense of purpose, they allowed Congress to exercise its duty and certify the election of a new and legitimate president.

So, earlier this week, members of the US Capitol Police and of Washington DC’s Metropolitan Police Department were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal as a tangible expression of the respect and gratitude they have earned among enlightened Americans for doing their job.

The leaders of both Houses of Congress were present for the ceremony. Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer were joined by Republicans Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy in a receiving line framed by a near forest of large American flags.

They all held brown wooden boxes containing the medals. First, two police officers walked down the line. They were trailed by the late Officer Sicknick’s family.

Sicknick’s father, Charles, shook Schumer’s hand. The Senate majority leader nodded towards McConnell’s out-stretched palm. Mr Sicknick walked by, shaking his head slightly. Next, Sicknick’s mother, Gladys, pecked Schumer on the cheek before she passed by the bemused Republican Senate minority leader and a frozen McCarthy.

Sicknick’s brothers, Craig and Ken, followed their elders’ lead and also refused to shake either McConnell’s or McCarthy’s hand.

The humiliation seemed to register on McConnell’s pale, forlorn face. He stared downward, a limp smile replaced by a sullen, almost defeated look of an important man reduced to mimicking a mannequin. McCarthy stood there speechless. Distant. Vacant.

It was a silent statement that spoke volumes about the formidable character of a family that decided to take an honourable stand against two powerful men of dishonourable character.

The Sicknick family made it plain that they were not prepared to sully themselves or their lost son’s sacrifice and memory by rewarding – with a handshake – the Republican politicians who failed not only to abide by their oath to protect and defend the constitution but to hold the principal architect of the January 6 mayhem to account.

“It’s disgusting,” Ken said. “They have no idea what integrity is. They can’t stand up for what’s right or wrong. For them, it’s party first.”

It is indeed, Mr Sicknick. They are even loath, these days, to condemn Trump by name despite his repeated calls to “terminate” the constitution they swore – solemn hand on heart – to uphold.

Gladys admitted that the family had planned, all along, to rebuff the Republican leaders.

“They’re just two-faced. I’m just tired of them standing there and saying how wonderful the Capitol police is. And then they turn around and go down to Mar-a-Lago and kiss his ring and come back,” she said.

Indeed, they are, Mrs Sicknick.

After having acknowledged that “Don” Trump bore practical and moral responsibility for the desecration of Congress by a marauding army of thugs, the spineless McConnell voted against his impeachment. Meanwhile, McCarthy made a sorry pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago to make grovelling amends and stand by the insurrectionist-in-chief.

The Sicknick family was not interested in forgetting or forgiving. Nor were they inclined to participate in a pantomime to mollify Trump’s collaborators.

Rather, they opted to hold McConnell and McCarthy accountable for their miserable failures and sycophancy in the servile service of a charlatan who helped engineer and celebrate the violence that claimed their son’s life. Brian was just 42.

They did what every enlightened American has, I suppose, been yearning to do ever since January 6 – come face-to-face with Trump and his enablers to denounce in loud and quiet ways how they have disfigured America for their sick, parochial aims.

That the Sicknick family seized the stage to do the right thing in the right place at the right time for the right reason is evidence of their decency and honesty. One family took a touching and noble stand when the occasion demanded it.

Enlightened Americans across the country applauded the Sicknick family for having done the right thing in the right place at the right time for the right reason. Their only regret, I suspect, was that they weren’t standing in that line with them.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.