ATLANTA — On the day that the Rev. Raphael Warnock made history by becoming Georgia’s first Black senator, the news was overshadowed by a catastrophe unfolding 600 miles away, where hundreds of rioters rampaged through the Capitol in support of President Trump and his attempt to overturn the November election, which he lost to President-elect Joe Biden.
“The terrible display that we saw of violence and mob lawlessness and insurrection deserves a serious and intentional response from all of us,” Warnock told Yahoo News Thursday morning. “It just underscores the urgency of us recommitting ourselves to the work of building beloved community.”
Warnock blames Trump and his allies for emboldening the mob to storm the building where he will soon be sworn in as one of two Democratic senators from the normally Republican state, putting his party in charge of the Senate after six years in the minority.
“What we saw yesterday is that words have power,” Warnock said. “Unfortunately, the occupant of the White House has been ginning up this bigotry, frustrations and resentments [for] some time. The problem is it’s been aided and abetted by other politicians, including my opponent during this Senate race. So this is what you get.”
Warnock defeated Republican Kelly Loeffler in a runoff election on Tuesday. Loeffler had been appointed by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp to a vacant seat; Warnock can run again in 2022 for a full term of his own. Democrat Jon Ossoff won a runoff on the same day for the seat held by Republican David Perdue.
Following a “Stop the Steal” rally on Wednesday in which Trump spoke before tens of thousands of people, egging them on with lies about voting fraud in the November presidential election, his supporters overwhelmed police to enter the Capitol building, vandalizing offices, occupying the legislative chambers, leaving behind bombs and forcing legislators and staff to take shelter.
Washington, D.C., Police Chief Robert Contee on Wednesday confirmed that four people died during the riots. One was a woman who was shot by U.S. Capitol Police as she tried to get through a window above a barricaded door. Three others died in “medical emergencies.”
Another result of Wednesday’s rioting is likely to be additional deaths from COVID-19, as an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 Trump supporters converged on the nation’s capital. Few of the hundreds who besieged the Capitol wore masks as they shouted, shoved and rummaged through offices. As of Thursday afternoon, more than 364,000 Americans have died and more than 21.4 million have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins data.
Instead of challenging settled election results, the country should focus on getting Americans COVID relief and distributing the vaccine, Warnock said.
“The folks in the Senate, in addition to certifying the outcome of the election, should have been working to pass the $2,000 stimulus package, to get people the relief that they need in the midst of this pandemic,” he said. “At the end of the day, we are all we got. And when I say we, I mean all of us — Democrats and Republicans, across racial lines [and others]. We can ill afford to have these kinds of violent culture wars distracting from the real enemy in the work that we must do. ... We need to be focused on marshaling all of our resources to safely and efficiently distribute this vaccine.”
Recognizing that many of his constituents might sympathize with the goals of the rioters, if not necessarily the means, Warnock said he believes his upbringing prepared him for this moment.
“I was raised in public housing in Savannah, Ga.,” he said. “My dad was a veteran, a small-business man and a pastor. My mother’s from Waycross, Ga., where she grew up in the 1950s, picking somebody’s cotton. The other day, she got to help pick her son to be a United States senator. I think that that is an expression of the ways in which the dream, the promise of America is very much alive. It’s just slipping away from too many people.
“I’m really proud of Georgia in this moment,” he added, “because we built a multiracial, multiethnic, multigenerational coalition, which ushered into office at this defining moment in America a young, Jewish man, who is the son of an immigrant and interned for John Lewis, and an African American man, the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Dr. [Martin Luther] King served.”
Warnock said, “This is a representation of the best in America” and a reversal of the usual “Southern strategy.”
“That old strategy where politicians came to office by dividing people” is no more, he said. “Jon and I are coming into office by bringing people together. And that’s the work we intend to do in the United States Senate.”
Cover thumbnail photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images
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