'This Building Didn’t Belong To Them': Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee Talks What It Was Like Inside Capitol During Insurrection
The Texas Congresswoman discussed standing up to the pro-Trump mob, holding the president accountable, and the future of coalition politics in the Deep South.
January 08, 2021 at 9:04 pm
One day after the unprecedented violence and destruction inflicted upon the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee joined Blavity on Facebook Live to discuss what it was like being inside the Capitol during the attack, why she felt the duty to return and finish certifying the Electoral College results, and what the Democratic Senate victories in Georgia mean for Black Americans and the country as a whole going forward.
Congresswoman Jackson Lee, who has represented the 18th District of Texas since 1995, described in vivid terms what she observed, experienced and felt as violent pro-Trump mobs broke into the Capitol Building as Congress was in session to certify the Electoral College victory of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
“We were simply attacked. It was an unprovoked attack, a siege,” Jackson Lee declared. “It was Proud Boys, Boogaloo Boys declaring war on the United States Capitol, viewing the Capitol as belonging to them.”
She described being able to hear the intruders breaking into the building and rampaging through the halls of Congress.
“We could hear the noise, then we were given the instruction we had to get out,” she said.
She also gave details on the circumstances surrounding the death of Ashley Babbitt, the 35-year-old Trump supporter who was fatally shot by Capitol Police as she invaded the premises with a group who had shattered windows to gain entry to a restricted space within the building.
“[Babbitt] was trying to enter the glass into a sacred area called – when I say sacred, a member where members are called the speaker’s lobby," she said.
After the shooting, Jackson Lee and other representatives were ushered down a stairwell to an undisclosed location.
“Yes, there was a sense of panic to the extent of what potential danger were we in, but I take an oath to serve the United States, and the people of the United States and my constituency and I knew that the goal was to make sure that everyone else was safe and yourself was safe,” she said.
"A few members took the stairs… to go to an undisclosed location," she said. "As they were exiting, we could see some of the... how should I say it -- domestic terrorists laying on the ground, and they were laying on the ground under the pointed guns of officers”
She later also recounted the obvious racist motivations of many of the invaders.
“They tore down the sign of John Lewis that we had in the United States Capitol,” she lamented.
While she admited that it was “a frightening experience,” Jackson Lee also noted how her years of experience as a Black member of Congress prepared her to deal with the attack.
“We are constantly besieged and attacked by right-wingers in the media and social media, so I guess we thought it was another group of those doing the same thing,” she said.
But despite the trauma of the day’s events, Jackson Lee and her colleagues felt the duty to go back to finish certifying the Electoral College votes.
“I was determined, we were determined because this place did not belong to those who wanted to destroy. It really belongs to all of the American people. It belonged to the slaves who actually built the United States Capitol and the White House," she said. "It belongs to the descendants of enslaved Africans. It belongs to all the little kindergarten classes and middle school classes and high school classes of students coming across the country to their Capitol. And it belonged to all the starry-eyed young people who visit the Capitol. It belongs to the people of the United States.”
Reflecting upon the larger causes of the destruction inflicted upon the Capitol, Jackson Lee called for a “wide range of investigations.”
She applauded Capitol police officers who at times engaged in hand-to-hand combat with intruders in order to protect the members of Congress inside the building. But she faulted the leadership of the Capitol Police Department for failing to adequately prepare for the onslaught, including by rejecting offers from other federal agencies and from Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser for backup forces. She also echoed many other Black people who saw the difference between the way Trump supporters were handled compared to the “atrocious treatment” that Black Lives Matter protestors received last year.
“There obviously needs to be a deeper dive into the training and type of hierarchy that is in the Capitol Police," she noted.
Turning to the responsibility of political leaders, Congresswoman Jackson Lee expressed approval for investigations by the U.S. Attorney’s office into President Trump, as well as his lawyer Rudy Giuliani and the president’s son, Donald Trump, Jr., for organizing and inciting the rioters. She also noted that House Democrats were going forward with plans to impeach Trump a second time and that they would introduce articles of impeachment on Monday, Jan. 11, hoping to push the process quickly through Congress. She also urged Vice President Mike Pence to consider invoking the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to immediately remove Trump from active power.
Turning from the chaos on Capitol Hill to the historic double election victory of Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and the Reverend Raphael Warnock in Georgia, Jackson Lee viewed the victory as part of a strategy of coalition-building that would help Democrats win in the Deep South and across the country. “The idea is coalition politics in the South with African Americans leading and drawing in other parts of the coalition,” including progressive white voters, rural residents, and college students.
To build off the victories in Georgia, Black voters must remain active, the congresswoman urged. And the Biden-Harris administration, which has consistently credited Black voters for its victory, must respond to its winning coalition by implementing policies to address their biggest concerns. Jackson Lee listed several specific items for the upcoming legislative agenda, including passing the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act, addressing high student loan debt, promoting small business and job creation, and passing H.R. 40, the bill she has again proposed to create a commission to study and make recommendations concerning reparations for descendants of American slavery.
Describing the election victories in Georgia and the prospect for legislative success in the new term, Jackson Lee ended the interview on a high note.
“That’s something to celebrate," she said. "It lays the groundwork for the rest of our Southern states, as we move into 2022 and 2024, that these states cannot be ignored and the Black vote can never be ignored again. It is vibrant and it is strong.”