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Hearings that have shaken Americans to the core

If there are two events that have aroused the conscience of America, they are the unprecedented violence on Capitol Hill, on 6 January 2021 by supporters of Donald Trump is trying to overturn a popular mandate and the shootings in a public school in Uvalde, Texas.

ASHOK NILAKANTAN |

If there are two events that have aroused the conscience of America, they are the unprecedented violence on Capitol Hill, on 6 January 2021 by supporters of Donald Trump is trying to overturn a popular mandate and the shootings in a public school in Uvalde, Texas, where a lone gunman went on a spree killing 19 children and two teachers unhindered by a posse of policemen standing quietly outside the school despite the children’s cries for help. 

Both events, which have shocked the mighty United States, the policeman of the world, have led to hearings on the incidents – the Congressional hearing on the January 6 attack on Capitol Hill, the seat of democracy, and the public hearing on why police did not rein in the lone gunmen for over 78 minutes despite children call- ing emergency services (911) from their cell phones. 

America is divided as Republicans strongly veto gun control, and President Biden does not have the numbers in Congress to push through legislation. Paradoxically Donald Trump is upping his ratings for a Republican renomination in 2024 while Biden’s ratings plummeted to 36 per cent, the lowest of his presidency, in August 2021, although 78 per cent of his party approve of him. 

Representatives Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi, and Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming, led the first hearing on the attack on the Capitol. This included testimony from a Capitol police officer and a documentary filmmaker, Kenny Holston for The New York Times. 

The House Select Committee investigating the attack in its landmark hearing last Thursday showed a video of aide after an aide to former President Trump testifying that his claims of a stolen election were false. The panel laid out in detail the extent of the former president’s efforts to keep himself in office. 

New information characterized an attempted coup orchestrated by Mr Trump that culminated in the deadly assault on the Capitol was offered in the Congressional hearing even as the panel’s leaders revealed that investigators had heard testimony to the effect Mr Trump endorsed the hanging of his own Vice President as a” mob” of his supporters descend- ed on Congress. “They also said they had evidence that members of Mr Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from office”, the New York Times says reporting the hearings. 

A nine-member committee was formed by the Biden administration after Republicans blocked the creation of a nonpartisan commission, to lay out the full story of the unprecedented assault on U.S. democracy. The testimonies before Congress blamed Mr Trump for orchestrating a deadly riot, an impeachment and a crisis of confidence in the political system. 

“Donald Trump was at the centre of this conspiracy,” said Representative Thompson, the chairman of the committee. “And ultimately, the then-president Donald Trump spurred a mob of domestic enemies of the Constitution to march down the Capitol and subvert American democracy.” 

“What I saw was a war scene,” the officer, Caroline Edwards, one of the more than 150 officers injured in the rampage, testified. 

“I saw officers on the ground. They were bleeding. They were throwing up.” She added: “I was slipping on people’s blood. It was carnage. It was chaos.” 

The committee is publicly telling the story of how a sitting president undertook unprecedented efforts to overturn a democratic election, testing the guardrails of American democracy at every turn. Mr Trump and his allies challenged President Biden’s victory in the courts, at state houses and, finally, in the streets. 

“You will see that Donald Trump and his advisers knew that he had in fact lost the election,” said Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the Vice Chairwoman and one of two Republicans on the panel. “But despite this, President Trump engaged in a massive effort to spread false and fraudulent information to convince huge portions of the U.S. population that fraud had stolen the election.” 

No incidents have shaken the conscience of America more than Buffalo and Texas shootings, with 62.65 per cent of Americans support- ing gun control and even 44 per cent of Republicans favouring gun laws. As the public hearing was launched on 8 June, Miah Cerrillo, a fourth-grader at Robb Elementary, who survived the shooting after smearing her dead classmate’s blood on herself and pretending to be dead, shared her story with members of Congress last Wednesday. 

“We were just watching a movie,” the 11-year-old testified in a pre-recorded video, saying her teacher went to lock the door of her classroom and made eye contact with the gunman. “She went back in the room and she told us, ‘Go hide,’ and then we went to go hide behind my teacher’s desk and behind the backpacks, and then he shot through the window.” Miah said she witnessed the gunman say “good night” and shoot their teacher in the head. “He shot some of my classmates and the whiteboard,” she said. 

Other survivors and family members of victims of the recent mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York, also testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Wednesday at a hearing focused on the epidemic of gun violence. 

The mother of Lexi Rubio, a fourth-grade student who was among the 19 children killed in Uvalde, told Congress how she frantically searched for her daughter after learn- ing about what was unfolding at Robb Elementary School. “Bus after the bus arrived, but she wasn’t on board. We heard there were children at the local hospital, so we drove over to provide her description. She wasn’t there. My dad drove an hour and a half to San Antonio, to check with University Hospital. At this point, some part of me realized she was gone,” Kimberly Rubio said in video testimony, sitting next to her husband, Felix, before the committee. 

Dr Roy Guerrero, Uvalde’s only paediatrician who also helped treat victims and happens to be Miah Cerrillo’s longtime doctor, said: “Their bodies had been so pulverized by the bullets fired at them, decapitated, whose flesh had been so ripped apart that the only clue as to their identities were the blood-spattered cartoon clothes still clinging to them,” it was reported. 

Testifying on the Buffalo gunning that felled several, mostly blacks, at a popular shopping mall, Zenetta Ever- hart, mother of Zaire Goodman, 20, who was shot in the neck and survived, said, “Let me paint a picture for you: my son Zaire has a hole in the right side of his neck, two on his back, and another on his left leg, caused by an exploding bullet from an AR-15.” She told lawmakers, “As I clean his wounds, I can feel pieces of that bullet in his back. Shrapnel will be left inside of his body for the rest of his life. Now I want you to picture that exact scenario for one of your children.” 

On an emotional note, she said: “Lawmakers who continuously allow these mass shootings to continue by not passing stricter gun laws should be voted out.” The witnesses begged members of Congress to take legislative action to try to prevent future mass shootings. The parents of Lexi Rubio, for example, said they want stronger background checks, bans on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines and to raise the age to purchase these weapons from 18 to 21 years of age. The Texas gunman was 18 when he purchased a gun. 

The hearing comes after yet another weekend of mass shootings across the country that left at least 12 people dead. Over Memorial Day weekend, at least nine were killed and more than 60 people were injured in mass shootings. Americans believe such shootings will continue even as lawmakers struggle with stricter gun control. 

President Joe Biden has been pleading with Congress to take legislative action to address the spate of gun violence, saying in a prime-time speech from the White House last week that Republicans’ opposition to various proposals is “unconscionable.” Lawmakers in both the House and Senate have been working separately on potential measures to address the issue. 

(The writer is a veteran, New York-based journalist.)