'We feared for our safety': After Capitol riots, Black, Latino Americans worry about more violence in DC
WASHINGTON – Bryan Campion-Thompson watched in horror as the city he was born and raised in fell under siege.
As sirens blared past his apartment on Massachusetts Avenue, Campion-Thompson, 30, grew increasingly frightened by what was happening just below. Supporters of President Donald Trump hurled insults and chanted “four more years” refusing to vacate the steps of his building despite a curfew enacted by Mayor Muriel Bowser.
“I felt so powerless,” said Campion-Thompson, who is Black. “It felt as if there is no one here to protect us.”
The nation watched in horror Wednesday as thousands of insurrectionists stormed the Capitol to challenge the 2020 presidential election results. But in Washington, a city long shaped by hardworking Black Americans and immigrants, the terror unfolded at home, forcing residents to lock themselves behind closed doors or commute from work through downtown streets filled with throngs of white supremacists and law enforcement officials who have often been openly hostile toward their communities.
The attack comes as the district grapples with a deadly COVID-19 pandemic that has targeted people of color, and a subsequent recession that has left many without work. It also raised renewed pleas for Congress to make the nation's capital city it's own state, with the power and purse to better protect itself from criminal forces like the white supremacists who have rallied across the district over and over again in recent years to support Trump.
As local police worked to secure streets surrounding the Capitol Wednesday night, Bowser extended a public emergency for 15 days. The order said that people who came to Washington “for the purpose of engaging in violence and destruction” had fired bricks, bottles, guns and chemical irritants.
On Thursday, Bowser went further, calling once again for Congress to make the city its own government, with the same representation in the Senate and House afforded to the 50 states.
“Washingtonians have waited over 200 years for the representation we deserve as American citizens,” the mayor said in her statement.
Washington is one of the most diverse cities in the United States, a fact that has not gone unnoticed by Republican lawmakers in Congress who have blocked previous statehood efforts. The city is 46% Black, a demographic that overwhelmingly tends to vote Democratic, and 38% white, according to U.S. Census data. But the city was more than 70% Black in the 1970s before gentrification brought a growing number of white professionals tied to government jobs to the region.
Longtime district residents said the violence Wednesday was the latest sign that they need a voice in Congress.
“We don’t have a voice as a people but people come here from other parts of the country and voice their opinions from their respective areas,” said Trevon McClain-El, 25, a communications manager for a community health program who was born and raised in Washington.
White supremacy has historically shaped residential segregation in the district, said Amaka Okechukwu, an assistant professor on conflict and race at George Mason University in nearby Fairfax, Virginia.
“The federal government’s refusal to grant D.C. statehood has functioned as a mass political disenfranchisement of primarily African American residents,” said Okechukwu.
Many DC residents feared for their safety
At 4 p.m., just hours after rioters breached the Capitol, Jose Reyes, 57, made the decision to close his restaurant El Tamarindo in Adams Morgan because of what he described as “destruction” and “terrorism.” Reyes, who immigrated from El Salvador when he was 20 years old, said under the Trump administration he’s seen many protests like this, but he hoped this would be the last time.
“I feel so terrible,” he said. “It’s unacceptable what happened yesterday. I don’t like that kind of activity.”
Much of his staff are immigrants and Reyes’ daughter, Evelyn Andrade, said the riots were “anxiety-provoking” for them.
“We were fearing for our safety,” she said. “If they were able to get away with what they were doing with federal property, yeah, we wanted to shut down and make sure all of our staff were safe.”
Andrade, 43, called the riots a “dark day” for the city and the country. But she said the masses of angry Trump supporters wasn’t a new phenomenon for those living in the nation's capital under the Trump administration.
“We’ve experienced this all year,” she said. “For the last four years we’ve experienced the escalation of hate and division and misinformation, so this wasn’t anything new. Not to an immigrant.”
Mellor Willie, 43, works in public affairs and regularly attended meetings in the Capitol before the pandemic. He was out on a walk a few blocks away from the Capitol around 2 p.m. when he got a call from his spouse, saying, "You may want to turn your way back."
"This city continually has protests. We're used to the fact that we have to plan our days and check and see if there's going to be a protest to get across town. We know and understand that because there's such a high level of security," Willie added.
Greisa Martinez Rosas, 32, lives in NoMa, a neighborhood just north of Capitol Hill. She knew things were bad once she got a call from the chief security officer of United We Dream, the immigrant youth-led organization where she works.
As an undocumented immigrant, she said she and her family had "go bags," with extra cash, snacks and water, ready from last year's summer uprisings following George Floyd's killing in Minnesota, when Customs and Border Protection agents were among the federal law enforcement deployed in the District.
The bags are for "in case we needed to leave really quickly. And yesterday was a day we actually took them out. We were prepared to leave," she said.
Seeing the riots unfold Wednesday, Martinez Rosas was brought back to "moments of tension" from her life, including her father's deportation.
Undocumented immigrants in D.C. live with the reality of federal law enforcement agencies surrounding them, but rioters on Wednesday were "aided and embolden by police," Martinez Rosas said.
Nicole Holliday, 33, lives in Columbia Heights, a diverse neighborhood a few miles away from the violence at the Capitol. She made sure to walk her dog before 6 p.m. Wednesday when the curfew went into effect because she said she wasn't sure what would happen after dark and if the mob spread throughout the city.
"You don't want the Proud Boys outside your house," Holliday said.
As a Black woman, she said she was not surprised at all that the riot occurred.
"When they waltzed into the Capitol like they owned it, they were because they act like they own it. They think they own it," she said.
Holliday also saw the stark distinction between how people were treated by police on Wednesday compared to Black protesters over the summer during Black Lives Matter protests, when mostly peaceful demonstrators were greeted with armed law enforcement officers, tear gas and state-sanctioned violence.
"If these people were Black, they would be dead before they got to the building," she said.
Holliday had people messaging her all day to ask if she was safe. She reached out to friends and posted on Facebook. But as the day pressed on, she said the chaos felt discouraging and she worried for the Black and brown essential workers in the district who still had to get home from work after the curfew.
"We're gonna find out that this was a super spreader event and Black and brown people are dying at disproportionate numbers because of COVID," she added.
How federal authorities responded to the mobs further shows that the district needs to become a state, Holliday argued.
She said if Bowser and the local police department had more power during the day, the response may have been different.
"I don't think that people that don't live in the District realize how frustrating it is that you don't have control over what happens in your everyday life," she said. "The idea of D.C. statehood is not just theoretical for us."