[News] A Tale of Two Members of Congress and the Capitol Hill Police
News at freedomarchives.org
Mon Apr 17 13:20:06 EDT 2006
April 17 , 2006
The Touchable and the Untouchable
A Tale of Two Members of Congress and the Capitol Hill Police
By JEFFREY BLANKFORT
It's another tale of two members of Congress, of
racism and hypocrisy, and it serves as a
reminder, as if one was needed, that Washington,
D.C., is in the heart of the old Confederacy.
Rep. Tom Lantos and Rep. Cynthia McKinney are
members of the Democratic Party, but there the similarities end.
Lantos represents South San Francisco and San
Mateo County. He is white, Jewish, Hungarian born
and portrays himself as "the only Holocaust
survivor ever elected to Congress." He is an
unabashed supporter of Israel. That makes him, of course, an "untouchable."
He is also the ranking Democrat on the powerful
House International Relations Committee, which
provides him with unusual opportunities to help
Israel. He sponsors repressive legislation
targeting the Palestinians and Israel's Middle
East adversaries and, when called upon by Israel,
he represents it in countries where Israel has no
diplomatic relations, a questionable activity by
a member of the U.S. Congress.
"He's true blue and white" - the colors of the
Israeli flag - a former leader of the
American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, or
AIPAC, Israel's official lobby, told the
Jerusalem Post, referring to Lantos' devotion to
Israel. Lantos made his first trip to the Jewish
state in 1956 and has been there nearly 60 times since.
And all along you thought his first concern was the voters in his district.
In 1991, in an effort to convince Congress and
the world that Iraq needed to be forcibly removed
from Kuwait, Lantos helped stage a hearing before
his private Congressional Human Rights Caucus at
which the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador,
pretending she was a nurse who had been working
in a Kuwaiti hospital at the time of Iraq's
invasion, testified that she had witnessed Iraqi
soldiers throwing babies out of scores of
incubators on to the hospital floor in order to
take the incubators back to Iraq.
The story was a total fabrication, but the
outrage it engendered was enough to get reluctant
members of Congress to change their minds and
vote for the war. Despite articles about the
fraud in the New York Times, the Los Angeles
Times and Harper's, Lantos was never criticized
on the House floor, let alone censured.
But this story is not about Israel or Iraq. It's
about the different treatment afforded Lantos as
compared to that meted out by the Capitol Police
to our second member of Congress, Cynthia
McKinney, who represents the De Kalb district in Atlanta, Georgia.
McKinney, of course, is African-American, and one
of the few members of the Congressional Black
Caucus who has not been cowed into submission by
the Democratic Party and the only one who has
refused to genuflect to the Israel lobby. But,
again, this story isn't about Israel, although
its specter and that of its lobby seem ever present.
To make matters worse - for McKinney, not for the
pursuit of truth and justice - she has refused to
accept the official Bush administration
explanation of the events of 9-11, and she has
participated in events alongside of other critics
of that narrative who have been marginalized not
only by both political parties and the mainstream
media but by the "gatekeepers" of the left.
She has also been outspoken - while the
Democratic Party has been largely silent - about
the disenfranchisement of Black voters in Florida
in the last two presidential elections, which is
the subject of a new film about her on that
subject, "American Blackout," that opened in
February at the Sundance Film Festival. In other
words, she is considered a "trouble-maker" in a
colony of "go-along-to-get-alongs."
The Democrat Party leadership was overjoyed when
McKinney was defeated for re-election in 2002.
After she had served five terms, AIPAC decided to
make an example of her for having criticized
Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. That led
to a stream of money flowing to her opponent,
Denise Majette, from wealthy out of town Jewish donors.
That, a steady drumbeat of attacks by the Atlanta
Journal-Constitution, plus an estimated 40,000
votes from Republicans who crossed over to vote
in the Democratic primary were enough to turn the
tide against her. The Democrats were, in turn,
mortified two years later when, without their
help, the plucky McKinney ran and was re-elected to her seat.
To show the party's displeasure, McKinney was
denied the return of her seniority by a
tight-lipped Nancy Pelosi, the San Francisco
congresswoman who serves as the Democrats' minority House whip.
And McKinney, it turns out, is "touchable" - as
those who have been following her ordeal with the
Capitol Police are well aware. Touchable by a
white Southern cop in a Capitol Police uniform in
a white dominated predominantly Black city in
which the Black majority are second class
citizens and reminded of it every day.
So when McKinney entered the halls of Congress
over a week ago, one of a handful of Black
congresswomen - who should have been recognized -
and walked around the security barrier on her way
to vote as members of Congress are allowed to do,
a Capitol cop on duty reached out to stop her.
McKinney allegedly turned around and struck him
in the chest with the cell phone she was carrying
in her hand, and now, incredibly, the Capitol
Police have taken this minor incident to a federal grand jury.
Now what about the "untouchable" Tom Lantos; how did he get into this story?
Six years ago this May, Lantos was driving his
car in Washington, D.C., and ran over the left
foot of 13-year-old Owen Sanderson. Sanderson and
his eighth grade classmates from a school in
Bolton, Mass., were crossing the plaza in front
of the Capitol when the congressman drove over
the boy's foot, sending him to the pavement
screaming in pain, the boy and his teachers told
the press. Lantos then left the scene without
getting out of his car to see whether the boy had been hurt.
As the Boston Globe described it, "While several
horrified teachers and the principal shouted at
Lantos to stop, the California Democrat sat
rigidly, staring straight ahead and refusing to
get out of his white Ford Taurus, which carried U.S. Congress plates."
"The first thing I heard was Owen screaming,"
said Ken Tucker, principal of the Worcester-area
school. "Owen's foot was pinned under the car."
Lantos, 72 at the time, finally reversed
slightly, freeing Owen's foot and ankle, and
drove off without checking on his condition, said
Tucker and several teachers. Lantos said he had
no idea the boy had been hurt. "I was driving to
my office," he said. "There was a typical spring
mob of tourists and kids and so on.
One of the
kids, horsing around, not looking or something,
jumped in front of the car, stumbled, then got up and walked away."
Owen's teachers and principal were dismayed at
what they saw as insensitivity and arrogance by a
government official, the Boston Globe reported.
"If he had stopped and spoken to us, we would
have had a much different response to this," said
Malin, the art teacher. "It's called human decency."
Youngsters "learn too often in life that if you
have money and power, you're above the law," said
Perkins, the school nurse. "That's not the way it's supposed to be."
The teachers, Tucker and the tour guide disputed
Lantos' assertion that he did not know Owen was
hurt. Lantos "was asked several times to get out
of the car by myself and the teachers," Tucker
said. "He was told, 'You hit a kid and you need to stop.'"
"He was trying to drive through a crowd of kids,
was what he was doing. Why or how, I don't know,"
Tucker said. "He didn't roll down his window. He
made no offer to get out of the car."
Laura Friend, an English teacher who was among
those chaperoning the 68 students, said she raced
toward the Taurus and screamed at Lantos through a half-open window.
"I was saying, `Stop, stop, stop! Back up, back
up, back up!' He didn't look at me. He didn't
even take his hands off the wheel or anything," Friend said.
When it appeared Lantos might not stop, Tucker
said, he stepped in front of the car. A Capitol
Police officer twice told the principal to move
out of the way or he would be arrested, Tucker
and several teachers recounted. "The officer
said, 'Look at his license plates. He's a
congressman. If we need to get in touch with him,
we can find him if need be,'" Friend recalled.
The boy he hit said he did not harbor bad
feelings toward Lantos or his wife, Annette, who was a passenger in the car.
But "it's disappointing that they didn't get out
and say, 'Are you OK?' I just feel bad he didn't call to apologize."
Lantos paid a $25 fine after being issued a
ticket for "failure to pay full time and
attention," said Lt. Dan Nichols, spokesman for
the Capitol Police, adding that the investigation was closed.
Which brings us back to the Capitol Police and
Cynthia McKinney and her accusations of racism on
its part. One wonders what would have been the
fate of McKinney or any member of the
Congressional Black Caucus had they run over the
foot of a white child, congressional plates and all.
As it was, when McKinney leveled the charge of
racism against the cop over her encounter in the
Capitol, not one Democrat, not one member of the
Congressional Black Caucus, chose to stand with
her and with Harry Belafonte and Danny Glover,
who had flown out to be at her side, at a Monday morning press conference.
Her fellow Georgia congressman, John Lewis, one
time civil rights hero but in the decades since a
Democratic Party loyalist, had the audacity to
tell her, "You need to come to a non-violence
workshop." Compare that with the comment from
Ohio Congresswoman Marci Kaptur who, in the same
NY Times article, described her as "a modern day
version of Sojourner Truth. The edge of her
knowledge singes some people. Sometimes turmoil surrounds the truth."
On Wednesday, April 5, with the grand jury case
hanging over her head, McKinney met with members
of the CBC and, following that meeting, in an
effort to defuse the situation, she offered a
public apology to the officer and to the Capitol
Police, saying, "I am sorry that this
misunderstanding happened at all. I regret its escalation. And I apologize."
But was McKinney on target in charging racism
against the white Capitol Police?
According to the evidence, most definitely so.
When the Black officers in the U.S. Capitol
Police filed a racial discrimination lawsuit
against the government in 2001, they expected to
get justice, reported the Final Call newspaper in
August 2003. What they say they've gotten is
retaliation. At the time the article was
published, they were threatening a second class
action suit, the paper reported.
The officers took their case to Capitol Hill July
30, 2003, for a press conference alleging the
Capitol Police Department's pattern of "filing
excessive and unfounded disciplinary charges
against prominent members of the class action, as
well as a pattern of harassment, including
exclusion of class members from the U.S. Capitol
Complex and a series of auto tampering, break-ins
and vandalism of class members' automobiles."
"We suspect that such conduct by the department
smacks of retaliation against the class members
and is designed to undermine the momentum of
current settlement negotiations," class attorney
Nathaniel D. Johnson told the Final Call. Officer
Larry A. Ikard, a member of the class action,
spoke on behalf of the 358 Black members of the Capitol force.
"When will someone become accountable for the
blatant acts of discrimination the African
American officers have had to endure throughout
our tenure? How can we be responsible for
egregious acts committed against us?" he asked.
He told the audience about training opportunities
he was denied and being subjected to a racially hostile work environment.
The Congressional Black Caucus responded to the
officers' complaints with a letter June 26 to
Chief Terrance W. Gainer and members of the U.S. Capitol Police Board.
"We are incensed and embarrassed at having to
deal with these same systemic issues of
discrimination against African American officers
in our own U.S. Capitol Police force, now in the
21st century," the letter stated.
"In these uncertain times of terrorism, concern
over homeland security and crises abroad, these
police officers are entrusted with the
responsibility of guarding and protecting us as
members of Congress, our staff and the Capitol
buildings and grounds, as well as our constituents who visit the Capitol."
The letter, signed by the 39 members of the CBC,
concluded by saying, "We strongly urge the
Capitol Police Board to implement far-reaching
non-monetary remedies and oversight measures to
ensure that discrimination against the African
American officers ceases, and we fully support
the complete monetary settlement proposed in the
letter to the U.S. Attorney's Office."
It was the same Chief Gainer who filed the
complaint last week against McKinney. But it
seemed to be a different CBC, one that not only
failed McKinney, but apparently failed to defend
itself against a racist remark directed at all
its members by Texas' poster boy for sleaze, Rep.
Tom De Lay, who recently announced he was not running for re-election.
"Cynthia McKinney is a racist," DeLay said on Fox
News Channel's "Fox and Friends," a day after
abandoning his re-election campaign under a cloud
of ethics violations and charges, the Associated
Press reported. "She has a long history of
racism. Everything is racism with her. This is
incredible arrogance that sometimes hits these
members of Congress, but especially Cynthia McKinney."
While McKinney was being slandered right and
further right by other Fox commentaries and the
same racist talk show hosts who raged at her
re-election, she was sandbagged from the left by
columnist Earl Ofari Hutchinson, who somehow
thinks the Congressional Black Caucus is
something other than what it currently is, a
rather meek handmaiden to an even meeker Democratic Party.
"A big tip that the race squawk won't cut it in
this case is the mute reaction of the
Congressional Black Caucus and other Democrats,"
wrote Ofari in an article entitled "The Sad Saga
of Cynthia McKinney," as if either group - and
particularly the Democrats - was deserving of any
credibility in this day and age.
"Not one Caucus member publicly charged to her
defense," he went on, "and not one Democratic
House member stood at her side at her initial
press conference when she cried racism. In all
likelihood, she apologized at the quiet urging of
Caucus members. No, McKinney was wrong."
No, Ofari was wrong, and the refusal of the CBC
to stand behind her at this time, along with
their refusal to demand a return of her seniority
when she was re-elected, will go down as shameful
chapters in the caucus's history, while the
betrayal of McKinney by the rest of her fellow
Democrats and the party itself is consistent with
their betrayal of the rest of America.
Jeffrey Blankfort is a radio program producer
with KPOO in San Francisco and KZYX in Mendocino
and KPFT/Pacifica in Houston. He is a journalist
and Jewish-American and has been a
pro-Palestinian human rights activist since 1970.
He was formerly the editor of the Middle East
Labor Bulletin and co-founder of the Labor
Committee of the Middle East. He may be reached
at <mailto:jblankfort at earthlink.net>jblankfort at earthlink.net.
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