Connecticut’s first and only Black congresswoman held a public meeting on Zoom that was disrupted by people posting racist slurs and playing offensive music.
Rep. Jahana Hayes, a Democrat, said it happened Monday during a meeting with Newtown residents as part of her re-election campaign.
Screenshots that the Democratic representative shared on Twitter show repeated messages by one person in the Zoom chat calling Hayes the N-word and telling her to “go pick your cotton.”
Another person posted “Trump 2020” messages and said Donald Trump “is the best president the U.S. has ever had.”
Hayes, whose election in 2018 made her the state’s first Black woman and its first Black Democrat in Congress, described in a tweet the incident of “Zoombombing,” when Zoom meetings are disrupted by hackers or trolls.
“So sorry to Newtown who had to endure this,” she wrote. “During our mtg these ppl continued to call me the N-word, play derogatory music & flood the chat with comments like this. This behavior is being normalized! We can ALL choose not to accept it.”
Racist messages sent to Jahana Hayes.
She elaborated on the incident in a blog post on Medium, titled “I am Not Ok,” saying she was about 10 minutes into the meeting when someone called her the N-word and told her to shut up.
“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, hurt and I could tell they didn’t know what to do next. They are all waiting to see what I do,” she wrote.
Hayes said her communications team muted the person’s microphone and removed them from the meeting, but another participant started to play the N-word on a loop set to music.
“This participant is also muted and removed from the meeting. 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,” Hayes wrote.
“All the disruptive participants are removed and without skipping a beat, I smile, apologize to the remaining participants, make sure they are ok, and finish talking about my legislative work, election security, the Supreme Court and volunteering for my campaign.”
Hayes said the rest of the meeting went smoothly and she hosted a second meeting that day without any problems. She ensured everyone that she would be fine, but after sharing the screenshots to social media she said she realized she was not OK.
“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,” she said. “We have become numb to this behavior, instinct kicks in and we just move on.”
She continued: “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.”
Republican David X. Sullivan, who is challenging Hayes in the election, called on police to investigate the incident.
“It is appalling that a bigoted coward would direct insults at Congresswoman Hayes, interfere and disrupt a legitimate campaign activity, and besmirch the reputation of the good people of the 5th District of Connecticut,” Sullivan wrote in a separate tweet.
Zoom did not immediately return a request for comment Wednesday. In a Twitter response to Hayes, the company said, “We are deeply upset to hear about this and we take the privacy of Zoom Meetings very seriously.”