- After the violent pro-Trump mob that included white supremacists attacked the Capitol last week, Black and brown people had to clean up the mess.
- The overwhelmingly-white pro-Trump mob left behind shards of broken glass and ripped-apart furniture, blood, empty bottles, and even feces smeared on the walls.
- Many of the janitorial staff and employees who do the manual labor are Black and Latino and were aware of the racial-animus held by many of the Trump supporters who turned the Capitol upside-down.
- It was “degrading,” one Black employee said, days after the riots. Workers also said it was difficult to watch a violent mob get treated seemingly with kid gloves by police.
- “If it was black people, we never would have made it, but I think we know better not to attack the Capitol,” a 28-year veteran of the Capitol told Insider.
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Just days after a violent attack by a pro-Trump mob, the hallways of Congress were quiet and nearly spotless.
Black and brown people, many of them keenly aware of the racial dynamics of that event, had cleaned up after the overwhelmingly-white rioters.
The Trump supporters who broke into the Capitol left behind shards of broken glass and ripped-apart furniture, blood, empty bottles, and even feces smeared on the walls.
The custodial staff cleaned up in places where people were bludgeoned and in one instance fatally shot, and where dozens of Capitol Police officers were wounded.
“It felt bad. It’s degrading,” said one custodial employee in his 30s, who works for the Architect of the Capitol’s Labor Division.
“We’re all Black in our labor shop,” he told Insider in the basement level of the House hallways shortly after getting his lunch. The staffer, who was wearing a dark hoodie and black mask on Monday, said he was not at the Capitol on the day of the attack but followed the events on TV like the rest of the country and the world. He watched footage on TV of his fellow black colleagues cleaning up the next day.
Several Capitol janitorial and labor employees — all of whom were Black or Latino — told Insider they no longer feel safe at their workplace, which is supposed to be one of the most secure in the country. They recounted the hurt of cleaning up after white nationalists who could have threatened their lives, and they feared what’s yet to come in the days leading to and on Inauguration Day.
“I was here on 9/11 and that was probably the most scared I’ve ever been in my 25 years here but this one is a step a notch on the scale,” said a staffer who has worked at the Capitol for more than two decades. “It’s a little bit worse than 9/11 for me. It was a little more personal, in a sense.”
That employee, who talked to Insider in the hallways of the Senate, said he was dismayed at just how easily the attackers were able to get past Capitol police and how police officers appeared to treat with kid gloves all the people he described as “the radicals.” While he was hiding somewhere in the Capitol, his family members were calling and texting to ask if he was safe.
“I’m a man of faith, so that helps me, you know,” he said, but he remained concerned about what would have happened if the rioters “would confront me personally” and how he’d have responded.
“I’m going to tell it like this: if I were the Capitol Police, I wouldn’t have a job the next day. If my life is in danger, then I’m going to do what I can to defend myself,” he said as he climbed the escalators near the Senate subway.
Another man who performed janitorial services in one of the Senate office buildings told Insider he hid in a large room during the riots after his supervisor told him to seek shelter.
“I was all by myself,” he told Insider as he pushed a cart of cleaning materials. His mother, who had reached him by phone, gave him minute to minute updates because “I didn’t know what was going on.”
A 35-year-old worker pulling an empty four-wheeled cart typically used to move heavy loads said she was not on Capitol Hill the day of the riots, but added it shattered her feeling of safety at her workplace. She hopes it will be safer with beefed up security.
“What happened shouldn’t have happened,” the mother of three said in a Capitol passageway.
A spokesperson for the Architect of the Capitol told Insider that the office has an “Employee Assistance Program”, which is a “free, voluntary and confidential program that can assist AOC employees as they work through stress and personal or professional challenges. Employees have access to a service that offers immediate, 24/7 telephonic access to confidential, in-the-moment counseling support delivered by qualified behavioral health professionals, no appointment necessary.”
Representatives for the House and Senate Sergeant at Arms did not immediately respond to Insider’s inquiries on what kind of resources and protection they’re offering to the employees and whether they’d be required to work on Inauguration Day. They also did not provide the racial breakdown of their staff.
Fearing for their futures
Some Capitol Hill workers also expressed fears for their safety in the days surrounding Joe Biden’s inauguration as intelligence officials warn of other armed protests in Washington.
“I do not want to work on inauguration, no I do not,” the first employee said. “I honestly fear for my life. I’ve got two children at home.”
“I hope nothing else happens because these people were talking about killing us, federal employees, killing police…I felt kind of disgusted,” added another employee who said he’d worked at the Capitol for more than 28 years.
Capitol workers also said they believed that if the pro-Trump attackers had looked like them, they’d never have made it out alive. The racial double-standard shown in the way police handled the violent group of Trump supporters has been a subject of much discussion since the day of the siege, with many activists comparing it with the brutal ways law enforcement handled last summer’s nationwide racial justice protests.
“If it was black people, we never would have made it, but I think we know better not to attack the Capitol,” the 28-year veteran of the Capitol told Insider. “Yeah. We know better. We know better.”
A 45-year-old janitorial employee who helped restore the Capitol the day after the attack said he was “used to” cleaning up after white supremacists at the Capitol even before the pro-Trump attackers ransacked the buildings.
“I’m used to it…the building we work in, you think they were the only ones here?” he said of the rioters. He clarified that he was referring to some of the lawmakers in the Capitol, and added that he prays for them.