WASHINGTON – Some huddled in the corners of the US Capitol, sending messages to relatives. Others were glued to their TVs at home as their workplaces were overwhelmed by rebels who smashed windows, ransacked offices and tore down American flags, shocking the country.
For many members of Congress and Capitol workers, especially people of color, the damage done Wednesday was visceral. It will be a long time before they feel safe at work again, they say, knowing that a building once considered one of the safest in Washington could be broken through by a mob carrying, among other things, a Confederate flag and showing anti-Semitic iconography.
Capitol police came under fire, as if they sometimes offered little resistance to the pro-Trump mob. While some experts defended their actions as a priority in protecting lawmakers over securing the building, many members of Congress, along with prison and food officials, wondered if they were safe.
“I have very mixed feelings about the Capitol police position and their strategy,” said Julian Purdy, who serves on the House Veterans Committee. “It can be said that the Capitol police chose to protect the people, staff and members above by protecting the property and iconography of the Capitol itself.”
Noting that he is a veteran of the army, Mr Purdy, who is black, said setting people’s priorities was understandable. But he said it was difficult to come to terms with the devastation his colleagues had personally witnessed, and that he had watched the play on television.
“I don’t think I’ve fully processed it yet,” he said.
Some food service workers and detainees feel even more vulnerable. Ricky Town, a chef who works at the Capitol but was home on Wednesday, said he knew colleagues who had been caught in the violence and sprayed with tear gas.
“I always thought they never had enough security,” said Mr Toon, who is black. But he said the evacuation response was handled better than on September 11, 2001, when he said police had not even informed kitchen workers about the terrorist threat to the Capitol, let alone evacuated them.
Many say they have always recognized the risks of working in the Capitol. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the terrain regularly hosted protests. Even bomb threats were commonplace. But Wednesday’s siege was shocking.
“When you’re an employee, you know that when something like this happens, you won’t be a priority,” said Nicole Tisdale, a black consultant who spent 10 years working for Democratic and Republican lawmakers before leaving to train in Congress. employees and advocacy groups. “I had never felt insecure in the Capitol itself. But now it all looks like a security theater. “
Black officials in particular said the riot reminded them of the struggles they often had to put up with to work for Congress.
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“I’m gay, black from rural Georgia – and a thumb in the nose of some to start working in this place,” said Mr. Easton. He noted that he worked in an office building named after Senator Richard B. Russell Jr. of Georgia, who was a strong supporter of racial segregation and white nationalism.
“But the images of hatred and violence were particularly harsh and resonant to me,” said Mr Easton, who watched the devastation unfold as he worked from home. “This is something that color workers especially feel when there are only a few of us in this place, relatively speaking.”
A senior aide to the African-American Democrats spent nearly six hours locked up in the Rayburn House office building. After working in Congress for 14 years, she said she witnessed the vague reaction of law enforcement officials to the crowd compared to how she saw people with color treatment being the last straw.
“I plan to leave,” said the woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not allowed to speak to the media. “I am tired of this battle. Wednesday was like a nail in the coffin. “
Another Democratic aide said he was disturbed by a moment of violence on Wednesday when he saw several white colleagues untied and looking unburdened walking around Rayburn’s building with red plastic cups.
“They behaved as was normal,” said the man, who is Asian-American.
Ms Tisdale, who works on national security policy, said she and some of her Capitol colleagues saw the event as a terrorist attack. But she said they were disappointed by the lack of public sympathy for the people in the Capitol who were caught in the violence.
“I know how law enforcement reacts after a terrorist attack and after a mass shooting, and I know how the public reacts,” Ms. Tisdale said. “It simply came to our notice then. Because all these people are working on the hill, people are fighting over politics. “
Representative Andy Kim, a Democrat from New Jersey, saw some arrogance in what the riots did. “When people invade – literally break down the gates 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 obligated to help clean up the leftovers. He borrowed a basket from Capitol police and began picking up water bottles, broken flags, and even tactical equipment that remained.
“Whoever bought it bought it for the purpose of this event, which scared me immensely,” Mr. Kim said of a military vest found, his voice choking on the phone as he spoke through tears.
A member of the Black Congress, who was also walking around the Capitol to investigate the aftermath on Wednesday night, said that despite all the damage, he was stopped on the track in front of Steny Hoyer’s office, where a poster in honor of John Lewis a congressman and civil rights leader who died in August was shown. He was missing.
He searched frantically for him and found only a broken piece of earth next to a trash can. Mr. Lewis’s image was gone. All that was left of his famous quote, “Get in good trouble, necessary trouble,” were the last two words, blurred by the imprint of a charge.
“This portrait was covered with black cloth,” he said. “They destroyed it.”
Pranshu Verma contributed to the reporting.