I was in gallery three. There were a group of us sitting to the side of the chamber in the gallery. I started receiving these email alerts about suspicious packages, evacuations of buildings. I remember turning to my right because I could hear noise. Then I looked down on the House floor and noticed that security had lined the back of the floor. And next thing you know, they whisked [Speaker] Nancy Pelosi out of the room, and then [Majority Leader] Steny Hoyer. I noticed the leadership leaving.
There was an announcement that folks had breached the building. The hard part about it was that we saw everyone being evacuated from the floor; then they said, “Lock all the doors, lock all the doors!” And I realized we were locked in the balcony. I remember someone right behind the door, banging on the door, and I think they were trying to get in.
Read: It was supposed to be so much worse
Then I hear, “Get down and crawl to the other side!” Later, I found out that the thinking was that maybe if we weren’t on the Democratic side, we would not be hurt. When we stopped crawling, I looked down on the House floor and saw law enforcement with their guns pointed at that door to the back of the chamber. I saw the broken glass. At one point I thought I heard a shot. I saw something come through the door.
The only thing I could think to do was pray. I believe in the power of prayer. [Florida Representative] Val Demings is one of my great, great friends, and she and I grabbed each other’s arms. She looked at me and said something like, “We know God is bigger than this.” It was almost like a call to prayer. I started praying in a normal voice. Then I got louder and louder and bolder and bolder. And I just felt the presence of God, and I didn’t feel fear. I felt like even if I died in that moment, I would be talking to my best friend.
There was banging on the door where we were, right after I prayed. We didn’t want to open it because we didn’t know who was out there. It turned out to be someone who came to free us. They just said, “Everybody go—take your mask and follow us.”
People a lot of times don’t realize the calculus that you have to take as a Black woman. As we were escaping, someone trying to be helpful said, “All the members take off your pins!” That way we wouldn’t be targeted. But in that second, I had to do the calculus of, If I take off my pin, then law enforcement or people who are trying to help won’t know who I am. If I leave it on, terrorists may target me. I ended up taking off the pin and holding it in my hand in case I had to show it.
Clint Smith: The whole story in a single photo
They took us through an unfamiliar tunnel. I still don’t even know where I was. They got us in the undisclosed room, and we waited for the Capitol to be swept and be secured. When we saw people not wearing masks, I was talking to a few of my colleagues, and they were really concerned. Some were angry about it. And I saw somebody had extra masks. I said, “Hey, are you using those?” I just went around and started asking people, “Would you like a fresh, clean mask?” People took them. One of my Republican colleagues actually said he had sneezed in his and that’s why it was in his pocket, and he said, “Yeah, I’ll take it.”