WASHINGTON – Some huddled in the corners of the U.S. Capitol and texted loved ones. Others were taped to their televisions at home when their workplaces were overrun by rioters, breaking windows, devastating offices and tearing down American flags, shocking the country.
For many Congress officials and Capitol workers, especially those of color, the damage done on Wednesday was visceral. It will be a long time before you feel safe at work again, you know that a building that was once considered one of the safest in Washington could be injured by a mob, including a Confederate flag and anti- Anti-weapons shows Semitic iconography.
“You came into our house with the worst of intentions,” said Tré Easton, a legislature assistant to Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington. “Then there is this open bigotry in the supposedly holy halls? I don’t know if I can feel safe just knowing that it is possible. “
The Capitol Police have come under fire because they sometimes seemed to offer little resistance to the pro-Trump mob. While some experts defended their measures by prioritizing lawmaker protection over securing the building, many members of Congress, as well as those in the Supervision and Catering Department, wondered if they were safe.
“I have a lot of mixed feelings about the Capitol Police stance and strategy,” said Julian Purdy, who works for the House Veterans Affairs Committee. “It can be said that the Capitol Police chose to protect people, employees and members over the property and iconography of the Capitol itself.”
Finding out he was an Army veteran, Mr. Purdy, who is Black, said it was understandable to prioritize people above all else. But he said it was difficult to reconcile that attitude with the destruction his co-workers had personally experienced and that he saw the game on television.
“I don’t think I’ve fully processed everything,” he said.
Some food service and supervisory staff feel even more vulnerable. Rickie Toon, a chef who works at the Capitol but was home Wednesday, said he knew of colleagues who were involved in the violence and sprayed with tear gas.
“I always felt that they never had enough security,” said Mr. Toon, who is black. But he said the evacuation response was handled better than it was on Sept. 11, 2001, when police failed to even inform, let alone evacuate, the kitchen workers of the Capitol terrorist threat.
Many say they always recognized the risks of working at the Capitol. Regular protests took place on the premises prior to the coronavirus pandemic. Even bombing raids were the order of the day. However, Wednesday’s siege came as a shock.
“If you’re an employee, you know if this happens, you won’t be a priority,” said Nicole Tisdale, a black adviser who worked for Democratic and Republican lawmakers 10 years before going to Congress train employees and stakeholders. “I had never felt unsafe in the Capitol itself. But now it all feels like a security theater. “
Black workers in particular said the rampage reminded them of the struggles they often had to come to terms with in order to work for Congress.
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“I’m a gay black guy from rural Georgia – and it’s a thumb up the nose from some of the people I get to work in this place,” said Easton. He noted that he was working in an office building named after Georgia Senator Richard B. Russell Jr., who was a strict advocate of segregation and white nationalism.
“But the images of hatred and violence have been particularly rough and resonant to me,” said Mr. Easton, who watched the destruction while working from home. “Color employees felt that particularly when relatively few of us are here.”
A senior African-American Democratic adviser spent nearly six hours in the Rayburn House office building. After serving in Congress for 14 years, she said law enforcement officials’ poor response to the mob was the last straw compared to how they saw people treated with paint.
“I plan to leave,” said the woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity as she was not allowed to speak to the news media. “I’m exhausted from this fight. Wednesday was like a nail in the coffin.”
Another Democratic aide said he was disturbed by a moment in the midst of the violence on Wednesday when he saw a few white coworkers with untied ties and no stress walking through the Rayburn building with red plastic cups.
“You acted as if it were normal,” said the Asian-American man.
Ms. Tisdale, who works on national security policy, said she and some of her colleagues at the Capitol viewed the event as a terrorist attack. But she said they were disappointed with the lack of public sympathy for the people in the Capitol who were involved in the violence.
“I know how the prosecution reacts after a terrorist attack and mass shootings, and I know how the public reacts,” said Ms. Tisdale. “That didn’t happen here. Because all these people work on the hill, people are fighting over politics.”
Representative Andy Kim, a Democrat from New Jersey, saw a certain arrogance in what the rioters were doing. “When people storm in – literally break open the door of America and desecrate this temple of our democracy and this flag – it shows that they think they are bigger than this country,” he said. “They think they are better than our institutions.”
Mr. Kim walked through the halls of the Capitol on Wednesday after the building was secured. He said he felt obliged to clean up the chaos that remained. He borrowed a garbage bag from Capitol cops and began picking up water bottles, broken flags, and even tactical gear that had been left behind.
“Whoever bought it bought it for the purpose of this event, which terrified me,” said Mr. Kim of a military-grade vest that he found. His voice choked on the phone as he spoke through tears.
A Black Congress official, who also took a walk through the Capitol on Wednesday evening to investigate the consequences, said despite all the damage, he was stopped in front of Representative Steny Hoyer’s office, where a placard in honor of John was displayed Lewis, the Congressman and the civil rights leader who died in August, had been issued. It was missing.
He searched feverishly and found only a broken piece on the floor next to a trash can. The picture of Mr. Lewis was gone. All that was left of his famous quote, “Get in good trouble, necessary trouble,” was the last two words – smeared with a boot print.
“That portrait was wrapped in a black cloth,” he said. “You destroyed it.”
Pranshu Verma contributed to the coverage.