The attack of the Capitol Building: uncovering student and teacher perspectives

The Capitol Building was attacked on January 6, 2021. (Courtesy of Flickr’s website)

The Capitol Building was attacked by Trump supporters on January 6, 2021. This was instigated by the reaction to the election results. 

“From my understanding, President Trump rallied up his base near the Capitol Building to bemoan the ‘fraudulent election.’ He told them to go to the Capitol to contest the votes, and they, with the help of some law enforcement, stormed the U.S. Capitol. Before the riots and during speech, congressmen and women were certifying electoral college votes,” stated Sydney Clarke, senior. 

Emma Williams

The History of the Capitol 

The Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., is located at the eastern end of the National Mall. The purpose of the building is for the Senate and House of Representatives to discuss and debate national policies, to develop consensus, and to craft the country’s laws. 

The U.S. Capitol has grown to cover about 1.5 million square feet and has over 600 rooms. The design of the building was selected by President George Washington in 1793 

The Capitol Building has five different levels. The first level is the ground floor; this is full of committee rooms. The second level holds the Chambers of the House of Representatives in the South Wing and the Senate on the North Wing. The third level holds galleries where the public can tour. The final two levels, which includes the basement, are full of officesworkshops, and other supportive areas.  

During the war of 1812, American troops set fire to the Capitol in colonial Canada. In revenge, the British set fire to the U.S. Capitol Building in 1814 along with the White House. In 1856 Representative Preston Brooks beat Senator Charles Sumner with a cane on the senate floor 

On July 2, 1915, an explosive was placed and exploded around midnight. On March 1, 1954, guns were fired in the House of Representatives where five congressmen were injured. In 1971 and 1983 more bombs went off in the Capitol Building.  

Political disputes or not, groups of individuals have led attacks on the Capitol Building for ages. On January 6, 2021, the saying “history repeats itself” was proven once more. 

Emma Williams

The Role of Law Enforcement During the Riot 

As a result of the attack, many believe that law enforcement in the Capitol was not up to the standards held in this country. This has become an ongoing controversy following the event.  

“In terms of how it affected Law Enforcement, I’d say that it has had a very negative impact on the perception society holds of Law Enforcement. I think Law Enforcement’s lack of preparedness, whether intentional or unintentional, just exacerbated an already volatile issue,” said Daniel Parkhurst, criminal justice teacher. 

Parkhurst, a former Murfreesboro police officer, said that the law enforcement made weak efforts to extinguish the situation.   

don’t want to blame the whole [criminal justice] system, but it bothers me tremendously that BLM protesters were treated so horribly. I mean, you have the national guard helping people down the steps. It just shows how [some of] America views people who fight for just causes like civil rights and black people in general,” said Clarke. 

Clarke explains that while the criminal justice system as a whole is not to blame, this protest should have been handled with intense care and action by the police. The Capitol Building is a highly honored building, and it should not have been easy to breach. 

Additionally, Ava Palmer, a senior at Blackman High, believes there should not have been a way for the oppressors to overcome the barricades 

“I believe that the law enforcement did not do enough initially. There is no way that civilians should have been able to force themselves in the way they did. I do not condone violence to citizens, but if they attack first, then I am sure they must take the appropriate measures to keep themselves safe as well as the people they are protecting,” said Palmer.  

Law enforcement officials did not react as one might expect initially. The Capitol Building was attacked far too easily 

“The response to the riot (like the riots which broke out during the summer) was not handled properly. We spend $750 billion per year on defense. And do you mean for me to believe that the center of our government fell in two hours? C’mon. I am not advocating for rubber bullets, tear gas, etc. But to think that the center of our government was left that vulnerable when officials knew that there would be a crowd showing up on that date is irresponsible. It is infuriating that some aspects of our government are not better organized or prepared for such events,” stated Chris Yonge, U.S. Government teacher. 

The Capitol Building should not have been so easily penetrated. Law enforcement should have been better equipped to handle such an attack.  

Emma Williams

The Mental Health Effects of the Attack 

High school students were also affected mentally by this attack. Current events have a direct impact on students. Some students even voted in this past election, making this event that much more impactful. 

In a way, I think it has affected my mental health. On the day of the riots, I was tuned into MSNBC all day. The run-off election in Georgia was nearing its end, and soon after the attack happened. I think watching the whole day unfold was a bad idea because I didn’t want to focus on anything else. I’m worried about the consequences, or lack thereof. On top of that worry, the events of this year and the riots have made me question how I view America, which is very unsettling because this is my country. One that I believe in, personally,” stated Clarke. 

Chloe Owens, a senior, voted in the November election 

This [Capitol attacks] makes America look weak. As a citizen I’m terrified for American that we could be attacked domestically or from a foreign group,” stated Owens. 

Additionally, students’ mental health has been affected by this catastrophic event. Not only has this generation been living through a pandemic, but they have also been dealing with immense political divide. This riot was one of the many political divides that has occurred in recent years.  

Joe Biden, I believe, was one of the more conservative democrats running for his party, and that’s who we chooseYou have to do some deep, intrinsic digging to fix America. All of these worries, of course, add to the detriment of my mental health as no one likes seeing their country struggle,” said Clarke. 

Emma Williams

Hope for Change 

With President Biden being more of a moderate Democrat, many Americans, including many Republicans, such as U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, chose to support him. He is a candidate who hopes to unite the American people once more 

I am really excited, actually. I’m so happy for Joe [Biden] and Kamala [Harris]. I think America will change for the better under this new administration,” stated Clarke. 

Clarke said that she is looking forward to this new administration. Change in America was craved by many, and this new presidency will hopefully allow that change to occur. 

“Accountability and unity. What some thought was gone [racisim] is actually prevalent today. However, I think it’s true when they say our differences can actually bring us together, and I hope that’s what will happen in the next four years,” said Clarke.  

History continually repeats itself. One hope Clarke has for America is that the country will take proactive steps to forego racism and white supremacy in this new administration. Kamala Harris can help lead this movement, as she is our first African American and Asian American vice president as well as the first female vice president.  

Emma Williams

Understanding Constitutional Rights 

Constitutional rights were also questioned, especially regarding the First Amendment, when these attacks ensued.  

I support every American’s right to peacefully protest their opinions and disagreement with government regardlessI may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” stated Yonge. 

While the incident at the Capitol became increasingly more violent and destructive, the initial protest is protected by the First Amendment. However, peacefully protesting outside the Capitol differs from breaking into the building in a siege. 

Yonge also discussed this historical event with his government students. He explained the differences between a peaceful protest and the violence that occurred on January 6. 

We did discuss the incidentI explained that I have zero issue with any protest and that the idea of protest is protected in our Constitution.  However, many have forgotten the key word which precedes protestIt is the word peacefulI support the BLM folks protestingdon’t support the looting and the burning of businesses that took place.  Just as I support the protest in Washington on January 6, I do not support the storming of the Capitol’ and the subsequent violence which took place,” said Yonge. 

Yonge prepares his seniors to become active participants in society by teaching them to become leaders. He wants his students to be aware of current events and to form their own opinions. 

“Voting was so much fun! As a Democrat in a Republican state, it felt like my vote didn’t count but I knew it was still important to do my civic duty. I walked in and it was very easy, the people working the polls were super helpful, and it’s very simple and quick,” said Owens, regarding her voting experience. 

Students who had the opportunity to vote in this election were able to exercise their right to vote. Through learning to form their own opinions in history and government classes at BHS, student voters have applied these skills in order to become informed citizens. 

“Every American has a Constitutional right to petition (protest) their government for redress of grievances, but what happened on January 6th was not a peaceful protest. It was an attempt at insurrection by a small group of citizens who caused the deaths of five Americans. I am saddened that in this nation, groups feel that violence is the only way to solve a problem and they do not believe in the democratic systems that have carried this county since 1789,” stated Michele Giacobbi, AP government teacher. 

Giacobbi implies that although we have the right to protest under the constitution, this right goes to a certain extent. She expresses her disappointment regarding the situation, as do many others. 

Emma Williams

A Call for Action 

Students have the role of preparing to be active participants in society. They, especially seniors, are learning to become informed citizens. 

My main goal with seniors in my class is for them to be active participants and realize that we get the government that we deserveIf we are not going to be angry about a congressperson being reelected for decades, taking lifelong six-figure pensions or the breakdown of the legislative process (no agreement and parties working against one another), then we deserve to have a government that is brokenIt’s all about being an informed and active participantYou cannot find the truth if you are just going to follow the flock [like] sheep,” said Yonge. 

He also initiated a call to action of sorts; he explained that term limits would be beneficial for those in Congress. He also hopes for a more unified country in the coming years. 

The one change I would like to see immediately is an end to the divisiveness.  And I believe that is pushed on us by both partiesIf we are busy fighting or arguing with one another, it takes our focus off what is really going on in Washington with the supposed leaders we have electedBlind allegiance to either political party isn’t wisePeriodHowever, on a long-term sort of change, I would vote for term limits for congressmen and [advocate for more] women [in office] right now.  There is no need for these people to make careers out of being political leaders and it is not in the spirit of what our founding fathers had intended when they spoke of citizen governmentWe’ve limited the terms of office for president (22nd Amendment)Why not the term of office for House of Representatives or Senate?” stated Yonge. 

Yonge is not the only citizen who hopes to see change within the new administration. Morgan Stephens, AP Government junior, also hopes to see many changes throughout America within the new few years.  

“I would love to see more protections of the American people, and more policies and education and preventative measures to prevent a repeat of such in the future,” stated Stephens. 

Many Americans, including Michele Giacobbi, U.S. Government teacherbelieve that those who participated in the attack must be held accountable for their actions that ended the lives of five Americans.  

There can be no unity without accountability. When the south seceded before the Civil War, the southern states were required to ratify amendments and leaders take loyalty oaths to reenter the union. When someone commits a crime, they must pay for the consequences of their actions before returning to civil society. All actions have consequences, and everyone involved in the incitement and participation of this riot and attack on our nation needs to be held to account for the damage and death it has brought,” said Giacobbi. 

On January 6, 2021, the riots that ensued sparked controversy over law enforcement and the new administration. President Donald Trump underwent his second impeachment trial because of these attacks, but he waacquitted on February 13, 2021. 

The United States is now faced with the challenge to unite and change for the good of the country. More of Generation Z will become new voters within the next election, and many Boomers will not be voting in the next election, which could change the way the government of the United States is run.