Hayes, Rosenthal React After Newtown Zoom Meeting Infiltrated
US Representative Jahana Hayes, whose 5th District includes Newtown, was subject to hateful racial slurs, derogatory music, and repeated messages supporting President Donald Trump after hackers gained access to a Zoom meeting hosted by the lawmaker Monday evening, October 12.
The infiltration and hack brought rapid condemnation from First Selectman Dan Rosenthal, who witnessed the incident.
"Last evening I was invited to attend a Virtual Town Hall discussion with Congresswoman Hayes and Newtown residents," Rosenthal said in a statement Tuesday morning. "Minutes into the meeting the conversation was 'Zoom bombed' by a person [or persons] who voiced and posted racial epithets directed at the Congresswoman."
Rosenthal said the responsible party was promptly removed, "and amazingly the Congresswoman carried on as though nothing had happened."
The first selectman said the "act of overt racism left me feeling uncomfortable and angry."
"As I learned from the Anti Defamation League after the vandalism incident at Congregation Adath Israel last summer, it is always best not to reference what was said or posted as it is like catnip to the hateful for their handiwork to be seen," Rosenthal added. "That being said, we cannot treat these events like the proverbial tree falling in the woods, as failure to respond creates space for acts of hate to grow and multiply."
The first selectman said while the political views of voters may be sharply divided, "our common decency should unite us."
"Racism has no home anywhere," he said, "and if we do not speak out in disgust when it happens to a high profile individual, who will speak out when it happens to our neighbors, our friends or, most importantly, our children?"
Hayes not only completed the Newtown session, but reportedly continued with two additional town committee forums in other district towns. She followed up by posting an essay titled "I Am Not OK" the following morning on medium.com, an online publishing platform.
"My district is a beautiful place with amazing people in northwestern CT and includes large urban cities, affluent suburbs and small rural and farming communities," Hayes wrote in part. "There are 41 cities and towns and I plan to host a series of listening session with the residents of each community."
"Our fourth meeting starts, and about 10 minutes in- I hear 'shut up N-word.' I pause- not sure how to react, but I catch a glimpse of all the faces of the people who have joined the meeting. They are mortified, shocked, embarrassed, hurting and I could tell they didn’t know what to do next. They are all waiting to see what I do. I smile and calmly wait for my communications team to handle the situation.
"My team mutes the participant and they are removed from the meeting. I continue to speak and this happens again, from another participant. Only this time it’s the N-word on a loop set to music. This participant is also muted and removed from the meeting," the essay continues. "This is repeated by two more people, clearly a coordinated effort. Six minutes of vile, disgusting, dare I say deplorable, hate- and I am on full display as I process, in real time, what is happening.
After concluding her next Zoom sessions — which were unaffected by further hacking — and assuring her staff members were OK, Hayes then said she posted "a screenshot of a section of the zoom chat which read 'SHUT UP N-word GO PICK YOUR COTTON, repeated in all caps over and over - fully appreciating the fact that cries of 'identity politics' are sure to commence.
"Many will question why I would post something so raw and offensive?," Hayes continued. "It is because I realized in that moment that I am not ok. I am not ok that this happened. I am not ok, that this is not the first time this has happened in my life or that I’ve had to explain that this happens."
'We Have Become Numb'
She went on to relate, "Black women are expected to press on, to ignore this behavior; to not talk explicitly about it because it is uncomfortable, divisive or does not reflect the sentiments of most people. I have watched other women weather this storm and fend off these types of attacks and wonder if in their quiet places they have felt what I am feeling right now.
"We have become numb to this behavior, instinct kicks in and we just move on. So many well-intentioned people say things like, ignore it, you’re better than that or don’t let it bother you. Even as I write, I am exhausted by the fact that I am carefully choosing my words, so as to capture the experience, but not offend the reader.
"We are left debating zoom security, yet not addressing the underlying issue- that pockets of racism and hate still exist right in our own front yard. The most painful part of it all is that no matter what you achieve in life, no matter how many degrees you earn or how good of a person you try to be- all some people will ever allow themselves to see is a N-word."
The congresswoman and former National Teacher of the Year concluded her essay imploring readers to "Stop saying that this doesn’t happen here or dismissing it as anecdotal.
"Have an honest conversation about what we are all experiencing. Listen, don’t project, don’t make judgements, just listen," Hayes stated. "While understanding my pain may be a journey for some, a refusal to acknowledge it is a non starter for anyone who seeks to heal our nation. The only way we can cut the cancer of racism out of our communities is by calling it out when we see it and raising our collective voices to get rid of it."
She closed quoting Edmund Burke, who wrote 'the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good people to do nothing.'
"Let’s all commit to doing something," Hayes wrote, "and being ok together."
Read the entire reaction essay by CLICKING HERE