by David Schleicher
In a time when political gamesmanship rules the day, it’s refreshing to know that heroes still walk among us. Take a Secret Service agent I will refer to as “B.” When I last saw B, I had stopped momentarily by his traffic booth in front of the White House to let him know his recommendation a few days earlier for nearby breakfast biscuits (WTF—Woodward Takeout Food) had made my morning. He patted his stomach and assured me he knew his biscuits.
He promptly returned to the tasks at hand, checking a truck that was seeking entrance to the White House. As I walked on to my next meeting, his unassuming yet professional, firm but good-natured, manner left me feeling the security of those around me was being well served.
Moving forward 11 weeks, the government had shut down. Pay was being cut off to his household, but as an employee deemed “essential” he was expected to report to work, paycheck or not. And on Oct. 3, he was at his duty station, still carefully stopping traffic seeking to enter the White House. Suddenly a vehicle crashed into the security checkpoint. Without drawing his gun or using other force, B motioned the driver to stop.
The driver aimed the car at him and gunned the engine, crashing into B, knocking him in the air, rolling him over the hood and windshield, then finally on to the pavement, where his head was narrowly missed by her tires. The driver fled the White House area and headed toward the Capitol at a high speed, putting pedestrians in danger and breaching another security zone. The driver rammed a Secret Service vehicle at the Capitol and ignored the handful of officers with drawn weapons who attempted to stop the car.
The driver backed up, nearly hitting Capitol Police officers, and sped away, resulting in officers opening fire. Encountering another barrier, the driver ran into a guard house not far from the Supreme Court. During the chase, a Capitol Police officer was reported injured when his car struck a barricade. Eventually more shots were fired by the police and the driver was killed.
Police then learned the driver had her 1-year-old with her — thankfully unharmed. Though it was certainly capable of killing, her car turned out to have been her only weapon. We now know the driver had a history of mental illness.
Critics have questioned whether excessive force was used by the officers who fired at the driver. Had the driver been in a car packed with explosives that was run past barriers into tourist-filled areas, causing countless deaths, you can be sure the same critics would have demanded to know why the same officers did not do more to stop the car.
Being second-guessed at everything you do and having the worst of motives attributed to you is often the price of public service anywhere; this is truer than ever in Washington these days. Moreover, never slowed by facts, conspiracy theorists prove themselves to be nature’s most reliable source of endless renewable energy. Every tragedy is another chance to prove a plot.
In this tragedy, the driver’s actions sent B to the hospital and left the rest of us very grateful he was alive. B’s response was not anger at the woman but a wish he had been able to do something to help her when they encountered each other. We all would wish society could have helped keep the driver from reaching the point that her mental issues would cause her to drive in a manner that led law enforcement to believe she was the sort of threat people like B are trained to stop. The driver’s willingness to subject her child to such dangers reflected her desperate mental state.
In a week he was working without pay, B to his great detriment risked his own safety in an attempt to resolve the situation without force, coming close to laying down his life for others. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill gave a standing ovation to the law enforcement response to the incident. But they apparently were not moved enough to ensure B and the Capitol Police officer who suffered injuries would get their paychecks before the shutdown ends.
Physical condition permitting, you can be sure both officers will plan to be back at their jobs, paychecks or not, protecting those they serve without regard to the insanity that so often goes on around them.
Many these days enjoy vilifying federal employees. Those like B would assure us they are not heroes, but then that is the sort of thing a real hero would say. Including one who knows his biscuits.
There is no disputing the incident was a true tragedy. But perhaps we can suspend the second-guessing and conspiracy theories that are their own breed of mental illness. Instead, let’s pause to thank our heroes.
David Schleicher is an attorney whose work includes representing federal employees. He chairs the McLennan County Democratic Party.