January 6

Ashli Babbitt's Violent Past Doesn't Justify Her Death

After the cops killed her, the A.P. gave her the "no angel" treatment.


On Monday, the Associated Press published a report about Ashli Babbitt, the Capitol rioter who was shot and killed by a police officer while trying to enter the Speaker's Lobby on January 6. In the face of efforts by former President Donald Trump and his supporters to make Babbitt into a martyr, the article purports to provide a counter-narrative, that she was actually "far more complicated than the heroic portrait presented by Trump and his allies."

While that is certainly true, it is also beside the point: Babbitt's behavior on January 6 is sufficient by itself to demonstrate that she is not worthy of martyr status. Digging up prurient stories from Babbitt's past with no real news value is both unnecessary and inappropriate.

The article details a yearslong affair that Babbitt engaged in with a male coworker while she was married and he had a longtime girlfriend, Celeste Norris (Babbitt and the man in question, Aaron Babbitt, later married after separating from their respective partners). Babbitt confronted Norris in traffic by ramming her car, then getting out and screaming through the locked doors. Norris later sought, and received, multiple restraining orders against Babbitt.

While the story may be salacious, it has no bearing on the events that led to Babbitt's death. In fact, the events of that day are sufficient to determine that she was not the righteous figure that the former president and his supporters are making her out to be. Babbitt was among hundreds of people who swarmed into the Capitol, breaking windows and kicking in doors to do so. She was part of a group actively attempting to break through a door leading to the Speaker's Lobby while lawmakers were still being evacuated. Facing Capitol Police officers, Babbitt attempted to climb through a hole in the broken door, at which point an officer fired, fatally wounding her.

Babbitt's behavior in the immediate lead-up to her death was condemnable. But to report out completely unrelated events from her past is shameful on its own.

In fact, the posthumous attempt to recontextualize Babbitt resembles the reverse hagiographies sometimes penned about black victims of police violence. In 2015, after Sandra Bland was found dead in a jail cell under suspicious circumstances, after initially being arrested for not putting out her cigarette during a traffic stop, the district attorney averred that Bland was "not a model person." A year earlier, after Michael Brown was killed during an interaction with a Ferguson police officer, The New York Times described him as "no angel." And ever since George Floyd's May 2020 murder at the hands of Derek Chauvin, some on the right have continued to insist that Floyd actually died of a fentanyl overdose, and was therefore "not an angel" but a "drug addict."

All of those reactions were rightly condemned at the time: Even if the allegations were correct—that Bland was combative, that Brown had a violent history, that Floyd was a drug addict—that would not change the facts of the individual cases, in which police acted wrongly and used excessive force, resulting in these victims' deaths.

We should condemn this media tactic when applied to black men and women killed by police, and we should condemn it in Babbitt's case, too.