WASHINGTON — After the attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob on Jan. 6, Herline Mathieu knew things had to change.
As president of the Congressional Black Associates, one of a hodgepodge of organizations on Capitol Hill that represent the aides who serve members of the House and Senate, she heard from scores of fellow staff members who did not want to return to the complex after the violence and racism of the riot.
“I spoke with at least 60 members who were just really concerned about their safety,” said Ms. Mathieu, a legislative aide.
One staff member told her bluntly, “I don’t know if I can work here.”
So Ms. Mathieu began to organize, a relatively rare endeavor for employees in Congress, which is exempt from most labor laws, including occupational safety and anti-discrimination statutes.
disparate treatment that Black Lives Matter protesters received from law enforcement compared with the relatively restrained tactics used against the pro-Trump mob.
“Many of my members, we marched last summer in the protests against police brutality,” Ms. Mathieu said. “We were overwhelmed with the security.”
But in their push for a safer environment, the aides are also pressing to ensure that the Capitol Police does not resort to racial profiling or cracking down on minority groups in response to the latest rash of violence.
“We’ve seen in post-9/11 that South Asians have been disproportionately profiled,” said Nishith Pandya, the president of the Congressional South Asian-American Staff Association and the legislative director for Representative Bobby L. Rush, Democrat of Illinois. “It is very clear who the perpetrators of this attack were, and it’s nobody who looks like the people here. Yet we all have to be concerned about racial profiling because of how this country has reacted to attacks like this before.”
congressional aides have reported trouble sleeping and feeling anxious, claustrophobic, angry and depressed. Lawmakers have requested additional resources to support the mental health needs of employees in response to surging demand.
Ms. Pelosi has pledged to spend what is necessary to make sure the Capitol is safe.
“It’s going to take more money,” she said at a recent news conference, “to protect the Capitol in a way that enables people to come here, children to come and see our democracy in action, all of you to cover what happens here safely, members to be comfortable that they are safe when they are here.”
The organizing after Jan. 6 is not the first time some of the staff associations have joined forces. In November, a task force from the Congressional Black Associates and Senate Black Legislative Staff Caucus produced a policy report on racial justice and reform. Several of the groups had previously teamed up to work on a campaign to increase diversity among Capitol Hill staff.
According to a 2019 survey of about 10,000 House employees — about half of whom responded — nearly 70 percent of employees are white, compared with nearly 15 percent Black, 12 percent Hispanic and nearly 7 percent Asian.
Kameelah Pointer, the president of the Senate Black Legislative Staff Caucus and an aide to Senator Tammy Duckworth, Democrat of Illinois, said the 9/11-style commission should include a racially diverse team. Ms. Pointer said that would be vital to “analyze how race played a role” in the failure to adequately prepare for the Capitol rampage, which was led by supporters of President Donald J. Trump and included white supremacist and extremist groups.
The organizations say they will watch the commission closely and ask for more meetings with leadership.
“This won’t be the last time that we work together to address the aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack,” Ms. Ramirez said.