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2006-04-04

Cynthia McKinney Accuses Capitol Police of Racial Profiling

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Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) has complained she was the victim of racial profiling that led to a run-in with a Capitol police officer last week. Prosecutors are now reviewing whether to bring charges against her. We speak with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee about the incident and we look at when several members of the Georgia General Assembly were denied entry to Coretta Scott King’s funeral in February. [includes rush transcript]

Prosecutors at the U.S. Attorney’s Office are reviewing whether to bring charges against a member of Congress as a result of a reported scuffle with a Capitol police officer last week. Possible charges include assault or obstructing a police officer.

Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) has complained she was the victim of racial profiling when confronted by the officer last Wednesday in a House office building. The incident occurred when McKinney went around a metal detector — as lawmakers are permitted to do — while not wearing her congressional lapel pin.

McKinney said she was rushing to a meeting and that most members of Congress expect Capitol police to recognize them. She reportedly poked the officer with her cell phone when he stopped her.

We speak with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) about the case.

  • Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D–TX)

Cynthia McKinney’s run-in with a Capitol police officer isn’t the only recent case where an African-American lawmaker has accused government officials of racial profiling. In February, several members of the Georgia General Assembly were denied entry to the main area where Coretta Scott King’s body was on public view. Congressmember McKinney addressed the incident in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Monday.

  • Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA), interviewed by Wolf Blitzer on CNN, April 3, 2006.

Today is the 38th anniversary of the assassination of Coretta Scott King’s husband, Dr. Martin Luther King. We speak with one of those State Legislators denied entry to see the body of Coretta Scott King at the Georgia Capital. "Able" Mable Thomas is a Georgia State Representative.

  • Rep. "Able" Mable Thomas, Georgia State Representative.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Jackson Lee, I know you have to leave soon to catch a plane. This is also the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, and I wanted to ask you about this controversy that is brewing in Washington with the Capitol police saying they were seeking a warrant to arrest your fellow congress member, Cynthia McKinney, for an altercation with a police officer last week. Congressmember McKinney spoke on CNN with Wolf Blitzer yesterday. And I wanted to get your response. This is Congressmember Cynthia McKinney

REP. CYNTHIA McKINNEY: There are only 14 African American women members of Congress. So I don’t understand what it is about my face that certain members of the Capitol Hill Police Department can’t remember.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response, Congressmember Jackson Lee, to what has happened to her?

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE: First of all, I think all of us, including Congresswoman McKinney, respects the Capitol police and respects them for their responsibility and their job. But I believe that she is quite accurate in the fact that there are very few of us who happen to be African American women, and there are very few of us who would be so, if you will, difficult to be remembered, if you will, or to be able to be noticed. And frankly, many of us get either confused or asked for our I.D. or treated in a manner that is not necessarily accepting. And in this incident it was unfortunate. But it is the role of the Capitol police, of whom we respect, to basically know the members of the United States Congress. And if you are rushing toward a vote, a House vote — and I think people should understand we have 15 minutes to cast a vote no matter where you might be in the entire capital of Washington, D.C. You might be in meetings off the Hill. You still have 15 minutes to vote. It’s very difficult then to be stopped, while the clock is ticking, for to you cast your vote.

So I think this is a question, first of all, where it should be resolved away from the cameras. I certainly don’t think an arrest warrant is appropriate. I hope that the arrest warrant is not issued so that there can be an issue on the Democratic side of the aisle, while there is an issue now with Tom DeLay on the Republican side of the aisle. And I hope that this can be resolved, respecting the Capitol police, respecting Congresswoman McKinney, who serves well in the United States Congress and serves her constituents. And most of all, I hope that we can reconcile this issue, so that we can continue our work. I think it’s an issue that clearly has the opportunity to be reconciled outside the legal process and that any difficulty in identification can be solved in an administrative manner

AMY GOODMAN: Has this ever happened to you, where you were not recognized?

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE: Oh, on several occasions. And, of course, you have to suffer the indignity and sometimes handle it in a way that you don’t care to handle it, because of the fact that you believe that you’ve served in the United States Congress and that you should be identifiable. So there is merit to the points that she is making. And there certainly may some concerns about securing the Capitol, which we understand has taken a whole different tone after 9/11.

But I think cooler heads can address this question in a way other than the criminal justice system of issuing an arrest warrant for a member of the United States Congress, who was within her right to be in the building and was within her right to be rushing toward the House floor to vote, as I understand the facts, and certainly should have had the courtesies of the Capitol police, as we should extend courtesies. So why can’t this be resolved, where we learn who each other happens to be and we improve the picture book, if you will, and the training, so that we all can be fully identified.

There is no requirement, by the way, for any member to have an I.D. We do have them. But we may have been rushing from somewhere and not carrying the I.D., and there is no requirement for us to have a pin, which is our identifying pin, which I happen to be wearing at this time. But there is no requirement, as a understand it, for members to have that at this time.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Sheila Jackson Lee, I want to thank you very much for being with us.

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE: Thank you for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Jackson Lee, speaking to us from Houston, Texas. And for those who are not up on the controversy with Congressmember McKinney, she is charging she was treated with racial bias. She held a news conference on Friday to denounce the actions of a Capitol Hill police officer. She was flanked by entertainers Danny Glover and Harry Belafonte, surrounded by school children, black school children, holding signs that read, "Is Cynthia a Target?" She and her lawyers said the officer failed to recognize her, then touched her inappropriately and that her treatment represented a pattern of police harassment of black people. We’ll have more on this in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Cynthia McKinney’s run-in with a Capitol police officer isn’t the only recent case where an African American lawmaker has accused government officials of racial profiling. In February, several members of the Georgia legislature were denied entry to the main area where Coretta Scott King’s body was on public view. Congressmember McKinney addressed that incident in her interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN on Monday.

REP. CYNTHIA McKINNEY: But today we had black elected officials from the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus, at the time when Coretta Scott King’s body lay in state at the Georgia State Capitol. The Georgia Legislative Black Caucus was not allowed into the building to form a part of the procession. Why? They can’t even answer the question, except that the security at the Georgia Capitol did not recognize them as duly elected members able to carry out the mandate of the people who sent them to the legislature.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Congressmember Cynthia McKinney, speaking with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Monday. Well, today is the 30th anniversary of the assassination of Coretta Scott King’s husband, Dr. Martin Luther King. We’re joined right now by one of the Georgia state legislators who was denied entry to see the body of Coretta Scott King at the Georgia Capitol. "Able" Mable Thomas is a Georgia state representative. She speaks to us from Atlanta. Welcome to Democracy Now!

REP. "ABLE" MABLE THOMAS: Thank you very much, and peace and love.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you talk about the incident that Congressmember McKinney was referring to?

REP. "ABLE" MABLE THOMAS: First, I want to just give honor to the King family for all the work that they’ve done and the impact they’ve had on the nation. And I know this is a trying time for them based upon the fact that this is the time that their father was assassinated. But what I would like to say is that we consider Mrs. King as family. The whole King family is like the first family for black America. And for us to have to not be allowed to go on what we call the second floor, which is where the rotunda is in the state Capitol, and basically be told that we had to wait upstairs, which is on the third floor where our chamber is, we think it was just really — it was just unheard of that we would be treated that way.

And basically what we did as legislators is we followed the protocol, because it was a sacred ceremony and we did not want to have the news coverage be about us, because we knew the news coverage was about the passing of a gentle and a strong warrior for our people. And so we know that, not only just in Washington, D.C., but in Georgia and probably throughout this nation, those persons, black elected officials, have not been treated with the type of dignity that they have been given by our constituents when they vote for us. But we have sort of had to sort of bear it and just go along and get along, because we are trying to not be the news story. We’re trying to impact our communities.

AMY GOODMAN: How unusual was your treatment, Representative "Able" Mable Thomas?

REP. "ABLE" MABLE THOMAS: Well, I think it was highly unusual. I know that there have been other dignitaries that have passed, and when there was a procession, the legislators, all legislators, had been a part of that. For some reason, at this particular ceremony, which was a sacred ceremony to us as black America, we were not allowed to enter the procession or be a part of it in a meaningful way. And so, actually, we were relegated to what we call the third floor. And we had to look over the balcony to see the proceedings.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Representative "Able" Mable Thomas in the Georgia state legislature. I just was in Atlanta this weekend, and I went over to the King Center, saw the tomb of Coretta Scott King next to Martin Luther King, Dr. Martin Luther King assassinated 38 years ago today. Your final thoughts, Representative "Able" Mable Thomas, on Dr. King today?

REP. "ABLE" MABLE THOMAS: Well, one thing we know is that Dr. King’s legacy was one of love. And Ms. King’s legacy was one of love. So in the midst of this, we just send love throughout the country, and let it be known that we in black America continue to suffer, but we also continue to stand.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for being with us.

REP. "ABLE" MABLE THOMAS: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Georgia State Representative, Rep. "Able" Mable Thomas, speaking to us from Atlanta.

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