U.S Capitol breach sparks confusion, conversation over state of nation
As her phone spewed notifications during her distance learning English class, senior Zaria Osimetha turned her camera off and muted her computer’s microphone. A surge of shock and devastation hit her as she saw the breaking news: the Capitol had been breached.
“I couldn’t tell you a single thing that happened in that class because I was not paying attention,” Osimetha said. “I remember feeling heartbroken because I was stunned that it had gotten to that point, and I was so upset that the police were doing nothing and that the president wasn’t denouncing it. It really made it so salient the racial divide in our country. I just felt heartbroken knowing that this in fact is not a country of liberty and justice for all.”
While many expected Jan. 6 to be remembered as the day the results of the 2020 Presidential Election were officially certified, few could predict the turn the day would take. Around 2 p.m. on Jan. 6, a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol building in protest of the upcoming certification of the presidential election victory for President-elect Joe Biden. Resulting in five deaths and 82 arrests, the riot sparked debate and conversation across the country and among the student body on what actions to take next.
“I don’t think that I was surprised that [the riot] happened because I knew that a lot of people were extremely angry and frustrated with this election, so I’m not surprised that there was some sort of riot,” Osimetha said. “However, I was not expecting something to that magnitude. I never would have even thought that people would even be able to breach the Capitol.”
While some saw peaceful celebration or protest on Jan. 6 as a possibility, many, including Spanish teacher Marcela Garcini, did not anticipate the violent events that occurred at the Capitol. According to a Jan. 11 poll of 178 students, 70 percent of students were surprised at the violent rioting to occur on Jan. 6.
“I was raised in another country, and…we’re so used to seeing those things happen in the Capitol,” Garcini said. “We never thought that would happen in the United States, and my biggest concern is to see a country that is divided. I know that we’re divided, and I know that the election was very divided. We see that picture. [But] we [don’t] expect that people are going to react like that.”
Many point to words spoken and tweeted by President Donald Trump before the Capitol riot as the cause for the actions taken by his supporters. During a speech the day of the riot, Trump urged his audience to go to the Capitol in opposition of the confirmation of the election’s results. Forty-five percent of upper school students believe Trump’s language was responsible for the Capitol riot; 26 percent believe his language was partially responsible.
“Part of the problem, really the main issue, [is Trump’s] followers,” junior Casey Curtis said. “They don’t believe the truth, and then, they believe what the President has spread on his social media: false news and false accusations of voter fraud. That is part of what led them to the attack on the Capitol, in my opinion.”
However, some disagree that Trump’s words were responsible for the violence at the Capitol and see a culmination of tensions over the past year as the main cause.
“You look at the events of this year: the pandemic, the murder of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests, the election, paired with harmful rhetoric on both sides of the aisle,” junior Tucker Sachs said. “When you add this all up, the equation, unfortunately, makes sense. We didn’t know what the repercussions of the 2020 election were going to look like, but we definitely got our answer on January 6.”
For many members of the school community, the events that took place at the Capitol interrupted the day’s usual routine, prompting conversations to take place in classrooms, at home and on social media.
“Seeing it was shocking,” Head of School, and former resident of Washington D.C., Dave Baad said. “I think, because [D.C. is] my hometown, that gave it an even more of a visceral emotional reaction. I was looking at scenes of places that I’ve walked around my whole life, and it was really shocking and really difficult to see.”
Similar to Baad, Rev. Tim Kennedy also used to live in Washington D.C, working in the Speaker’s office of the Capitol building for three-and-a-half years, adding to the surprise and poignancy of the event.
“For me, it was a really emotional day to know that the symbol of democracy, the physical [Capitol] building, was also protecting people’s lives who [are] trying to do a sacred purpose,” Kennedy said. “This idea of self-government is not easy. There’s a lot of debate and anger and all [of] that, which is okay if you use it in a productive way. What you saw there was not productive.”
Occupied by classes, some students and teachers learned about the events long after they occurred. Among these students was Curtis.
“I got to play rehearsal, and they were talking about something at the Capitol,” Curtis said. “I looked it up, and I saw all of these images: people breaking into the Capitol, people breaking windows, a herd of people, no masks, government insurrection, and I was like ‘when did I miss this one?’ I went off [of] my phone for two hours, and this is what happened.”
Surprise surrounding the Capitol riot spread throughout the country and the world. Political reporter for NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth and co-host of Lone Star politics Julie Fine experienced a shift in the direction of her news coverage as well as concern for those affected by the violence.
“I’m a human being, so it’s very difficult to cover things like this,” Fine said. “I always find that after the news is over, I sit down and watch the news [myself] and get caught up. That’s when it really hits me. You’re affected by these things personally, and you have to do your job to do the best you can, but you’re affected by them, just like everybody else.”
For many, the Capitol riots led to questioning the presence and actions of the security present. Seventy percent of students believe the security at the Capitol was not forceful enough.
“I was very disappointed also in the leadership of the Capitol Police, because it never should have gotten to that intensity,” Kennedy said. “One of the great things about D.C. is that there’s a protest every day, and you can go and you have your voice heard. In D.C., that’s just part of normal business. The idea that they weren’t prepared on this particular important day is just really sad. It was a complete failure of leadership.”
In addition, Osimetha believes the 2020 Black Lives Matter Protests and the D.C. Capitol Riot are comparable in regards to the differing responses from police. For instance, 65 percent of students believe that the police response at the Capitol was not as forceful compared to the police response at Black Lives Matter protests.
“When you look at videos from the [Black Lives Matter protests], police were kicking people over, pushing people out of the way, like so quick to pull out their pepper spray and mace,” Osimetha said. “Then, I looked at videos of the riot––there was nothing. The police were so lenient and tolerant of very violent behavior, and I was just shocked. The racial undertones can be seen in both events, and when you compare them, I think it makes it more obvious how divided this country is.”
However, some students disagree, believing a comparison between the two events is not appropriate.
“You can only compare the two events in the sense that they are both just reasons to be upset that got out of hand,” freshman William Custard said. “The extremists on both sides pushed breaking points.”
These conversations continued onto social media, where many voiced their opinions on the events and debated them with others, while calling for change.
“I think whether or not you post about it or really make your voice known about the subject, I won’t hold that against you,” Curtis said. “Personally, I like to share my opinion, strongly [on social media]… I want my page and social media profiles, even though they’re very small, to be full of people who have the same opinions as me.”
As the chaos at the Capitol subsided, Americans began to look to the future, predicting the lasting impacts of the riots.
“We’ve never seen anything like this at our United States Capitol, so there are many different ways to look at it,” Fine said. “We’ve never seen anything like this, so there’s a security aspect of it. There is the political aspect of it. There’s the emotional aspect of it. It affects America in many different ways. We watch horrifying images, very difficult images to watch. For everybody in America, it was just a very hard day.”
Despite violent protesting at the Capitol, the certification of Biden’s victory still took place, with Biden receiving 306 votes and Trump receiving 232. Due to the interruption, proceedings lasted until 3:40 a.m. Many Republicans who promised to oppose the electoral college vote in favor of Trump changed their mind after the protests, such as Sen. Kelly Loeffler.
“The important thing to acknowledge here is that, however rough it ended up being, democracy still prevailed,” Sachs said. “The legitimacy of our government, while flawed for sure, isn’t in question.”
For Trump, the riots resulted in a permanent suspension on Twitter and suspension on other social media platforms, including Facebook, sparking conversations on the ethics of social media restrictions and whether those limits should have been implemented sooner.
“Big tech companies have too much power over us,” Custard said. “I think banning Trump’s Twitter is unconstitutional, as it does not allow freedom of speech, and it is really scary to think these companies have this much power over us.”
Also surrounding Trump are debates on impeachment or invoking the 25th Amendment, which could remove Trump from power with the support of Vice President Mike Pence. Regardless, Trump will not attend Biden’s inauguration, the fourth president to ever miss the event.
“As much as I hate to say it, the claim that Trump has become a threat to the stability of the nation does have validity now,” Sachs said. “To me, at this point, we are so close to the inauguration that Trump’s political ability is limited, and frankly an impeachment inquiry or bringing forth the 25th would just ensure that his reputation is absolutely destroyed.”
The impacts of the Capitol riots stretch all around the world. With other countries watching, many, including Garcini, are concerned that the chaos will result in a loss of respect for America.
“Internationally, the way that [people] look at America is changing,” Garcini said. “We are always the mediators of different conflicts around the world. Now, how can we be the mediators when we cannot even control whatever is happening in our own country? This is going to have a domino effect.”
In response to the events that took place at the Capitol, Baad sent out an email on Jan. 7 to parents and faculty of the school community, in which he elaborated on what he believes the school’s role is in “[contributing] to a democratic system grounded in rational discernment and civil discourse.” Specifically, Baad emphasized helping students determine what is fair and what is just.
“We are living in an age in which [students] already are bombarded with information, and I think in order for you to understand, interpret, [and] analyze that information, being able to do that is going to be key for you to determine what is fair and what is just in this world,” Baad said. “You need to have great reading comprehension skills, really great reading comprehension skills and statistical fluency—because you’re going to get statistics thrown at you—and then the ability to reason and analyze. These are all things [the school needs] to develop in [students].”
Many, including Kennedy, hope the riots create unification for the country, rather than division. Kennedy looks to the words E Pluribus Unum painted on the Capitol rotunda as a reminder of the unity present in the U.S.
“This idea that we would allow people to storm the castle, just because their person didn’t win, it’s just the complete opposite of what we’re supposed to stand for,” Kennedy said. “We come from lots of different places with lots of different beliefs, systems, backgrounds, histories, families, cultures and languages, and all [of] that is beautiful and awesome. E Pluribus Unum Is this idea of one that we are one nation under God, and that we should be working together to move the country together.”