[News] A Tale of Two Members of Congress and the Capitol Hill Police

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Mon Apr 17 13:20:06 EDT 2006


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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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