Cynthia McKinney & The Lost Boys
The war in Iraq rages on.
The economy continues to spiral. The president continues to
claim an unprecedented expansion of executive powers. Thousands
of students stage walk-outs from high schools and tens of
thousands of protesters take to the streets in response to a
proposed bill to make being or helping an illegal immigrant a
felony. Aid to Katrina victims is expiring with hundreds being
turned out onto the streets. And, in Milwaukee, efforts to find
11-year old Purvis Virginia Parker and 12-year old Quadrevion
Henning have quietly shifted from a full-on manhunt to a cold
case. And what is dominating the news? A congresswoman angry
because some cop didn’t recognize her.
U.S. Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney (D-Georgia) was stopped by a Capitol Police officer last week when she walked around the magnetometer in the Longworth House Office Building lobby. After being asked to stop three times, a policeman grabbed McKinney (likely by the arm), and McKinney allegedly punched the officer in anger. This is, at best, a ten-minute deal. McKinney, apparently late for a meeting and annoyed at a continuing pattern of not being recognized by Capitol police, surely lashed out in frustration and meant the officer no real harm. I mean, she hit him with her cell phone, for Pete’s sake. The officer, on the other hand, obviously meant McKinney no harm or insult, as he grabbed her arm and didn’t club her with his baton or, say, mace her as he’d have surely done to me.
I say, handshakes all around, a grinning photo op, and lessons learned. Everybody’s an adult. But, of course, that wasn’t what happened. What happened was a circus of unprecedented proportions: the incident escalated first by the Capitol police threatening to file charges, perhaps in an effort to embarrass the Congresswoman and force her to apologize. Being no shrinking violet, Representative McKinney fired back, characterizing the incident as an example of racial profiling and accusing the officer of racism. Which is where everything went wrong.
Had the congresswoman fired back with kindness, with, “This was just a misunderstanding, the lobby procedures should be reviewed, etc.” it is likely the incident would never have made national headlines. But that wasn’t the path the congresswoman took. Instead, she charged racism, which, in turn, required two things: first, prominent black leaders and McKinney supporters now had to rally to her cause, even if many doubted this business could or should go the distance. And, secondly, her accusal required the media to make a circus of it all.
Black leaders standing with McKinney showed a certain loyalty, but it was a Bush loyalty. It was precisely the same kind of loyalty and unity the Republican Party once showed the president, backing President Bush’s play even when they knew—I mean, they knew—the president was dead wrong. Even when they knew the president was ill-informed, irrational, or simply lying, Bush’s supporters backed him anyway. That’s what loyalty means, you back your guy. But it’s the height of hypocrisy when you back your guy when he’s sadly and tragically wrong, when lives are on the line.
Lives were on the line while Rep. McKinney pressed her “case” for racism. The lives of Purvis Parker and Quadrevion Henning, two boys who went to play basketball and never came home. Milwaukee police were tragically slow to take the boys’ disappearance seriously, refusing to send out an Amber alert because, in their opinion, there was no evidence of a crime having been committed. Well, other than two small boys not returning home for days.
The clear and capricious double standard of justice and mercy applied to those missing children was obvious. A missing 11-year old blonde girl is national news. Two missing 11-year old blonde girls would be a national obsession. It would be all anyone was talking about. But nobody was talking about Purvis and Dre, least of all Rep. McKinney. The only small hope those boys have is the pressure of media attention; pressure Rep. McKinney single-handedly eliminated by dominating the small percentage of news coverage devoted to minority news.
The media was only beginning to investigate the story of the missing Milwaukee children and the Milwaukee police’s slow and inadequate response when the McKinney story broke and pushed the missing children from what meager coverage they had been receiving. While there seems no direct connection between the two stories, the fact is mainstream media only covers X-Amount of “black” news. The missing children were “black” news. The McKinney case was “black” news, and was a sexier story. I have not heard much at all about the missing boys since the McKinney story broke.
Absent the pressure of glaring video lights, Milwaukee PD and the FBI have no real impetus to find the boys or find those responsible for their vanishing. Black children vanish in America every single day and, for the most part, it goes unnoticed by major media. This case stood a chance of forcing major news outlets to notice and ask tough questions of law enforcement, but those questions were never asked. Most news outlets merely picked the story up off the AP wire and gave it a hand wave without bothering to wonder why no Amber alert had been sent out and why these children could be missing eight (EIGHT) days before the case was even considered a crime?
While not from Wisconsin, these are answers Rep. McKinney surely could have and should have demanded. A peppery firebrand, McKinney has been tilting at windmills her entire career. She is a well-known figure on Capitol Hill, an aggressive in-your-face gal who presses for minority causes.
Wher Are The Missing Boys? That’s all McKnney should have said to CNN’s solidad O’Brien, over and over, like a parrot, until the tabloid reporter gave up. Instead, she stuck to her losing, transparently false racial profiling claim.
Bob Kemper The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"She’s one of the lone voices who offers an
opposing view on many questions,” said William Boone, a political
science professor at Clark Atlanta University. McKinney’s critics,
he said, “all think that she’s some person who’s so far out there
and doesn’t have a firm grasp of reality. That’s totally wrong,”
McKinney entered her first political race without knowing it. Her father wrote in her name for a state House seat in 1986 while she was living in Jamaica with her husband, Jamaican politician Coy Grandison, and their son. By 1988, McKinney had divorced Grandison and returned to the United States with her son. She campaigned hard for the state House and won, creating the only father-daughter legislative team in the nation.
She quickly made an impression by wearing pants on the floor of the Georgia House of Representatives, defying rules requiring women to wear skirts or dresses. She harshly criticized the 1991 invasion of Iraq, and her colleagues walked out of the state House in protest. She called her own party’s leaders “dinosaurs” who consider blacks “no more than spare parts for their whites-only party machine.”
“I’m attracted to fights,” she once said. McKinney was elected to Congress in 1992 in a freshly drawn black-majority district. She immediately called for a Justice Department investigation into Georgia’s kaolin industry, a prominent employer in her district, on antitrust charges. In ensuing elections, even as her district was altered around her, McKinney would continue to easily win races often marked by racial overtones.
That streak ended in 2002 in a race in which McKinney’s strong support from Arab donors was one issue. McKinney’s father spelled out for reporters that he felt “J-E-W-S” helped bring her down. Even in the moment of her defeat, however, McKinney hinted at her return, telling supporters she simply wouldn’t “be in Congress for a couple of years.”
"I’ve got to be proud of what she did,” said Billy McKinney, who was conspicuously absent from his daughter’s successful ’94 campaign [to regain her congressional seat].
A Squandered Greatness: She barged passed a security checkpoint without showing her House ID. Then she hit the officer trying to detain her. She should have been placed under arrest. At bare minimum, a sincere apology was certainly in order. Instead, she rallied the faithful behind ridiculous charges of racial profiling. This is what happens we we rush in without first waiting for the actual facts.
Leveling charges of racism
can be risky. You can end up suffering twice: once from the racism,
once for trying to do something about it. Even when circumstances are patently and obviously
racist, it really falls to a white person to credibly make that
charge. Soon as a black person charges racism, many whites just roll
their eyes and start tuning us out. McKinney, whose sheer volume and
flamboyance has made her a veritable thorn in the side of Congress
for more than a decade, has apparently leveled similar complaints
before, to the extent that such charges from her carry increasingly
Charges of racism are like banging a drum. If you bang it too often, people just wave you off, “Oh, it’s just ol’ gal banging her drum.” Which isn’t to say her charges aren’t true—I wasn’t there, but I’m reasonably certain they are. But three things remain even truer:
First: violence is never okay. It’s just not. The minute Rep. McKinney struck the officer, she was in the wrong, period.
Second: McKinney’s vendetta fairly polarized Congress, harming important legislation while battle lines were drawn between the Republicans (many of whom began wearing “I Love Capitol Police” pins) and black Democrats, with white and Latino Democrats uncomfortably caught in the crossfire. Once Rep. McKinney hit the officer, she lost; it really was that simple. There was just no justification for striking a police officer, a felony that could cost her her Congressional seat.
Third, and most tragically: she pushed Purvis and Dre off the air. Now, mind you, that case was, likely, going off the air anyway since no reporter—I mean, not one—seemed even the least bit curious about the botched handling of their case. News outlets, perhaps anxious to drop the story but not having a comfortable way to do that, found their answer in the McKinney circus, swapping “breaking” black news for the stifling horror of the waiting in Milwaukee.
Thursday, with meager and tepid support from her Congressional and party allies and facing a possible felony charge for assaulting a police officer which could cost her her Congressional seat and possibly land her in prison, Rep. McKinney issued a half-baked “apology” on the House floor. “I am sorry that this misunderstanding happened at all, and I regret its escalation and I apologize,” she said, surrounded by colleagues on the House floor, missing the point that the incident didn’t merely “escalate”—she escalated it.
McKinney was doubtlessly under pressure from Congressional blacks and minorities as her accusations of racism fairly polarized their legislative agenda while providing a welcome distraction to President Bush’s epic political turmoil. Late last week it was revealed that President Bush actually authorized Vice Presidential Chief of Staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby to leak a formerly classified CIA intelligence brief to the media, a crime for which Libby was indicted. Last year, Bush promised a swift investigation and housecleaning, which led to Vice President Dick Cheney tossing his chief of staff under the wheels of the bus. But now, it appears, that Bush himself is the leaker. McKinney’s troubles sapped precious headline space and airtime away from the ensuing feeding frenzy.
McKinney lost her re-election bid two years ago after suggesting in a March 2002 radio interview that President Bush may have had prior knowledge of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and failed to prevent them. She implied that people close to the administration stood to gain financially from a war on terror. “We now know that there were enough warnings prior to Sept. 11 that we didn’t even have to experience Sept. 11 at all,” McKinney said on Pacifica Radio, sparking a national uproar and drawing criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike.
Fellow House Democrats have refused her demand to reinstate 10 years of seniority from her previous tenure, making it more difficult for her to secure influential committee positions. Many of them may still harbor grudges for her 9/11 remarks and for a letter she wrote to a Saudi prince expressing empathy for his claim that U.S. policy in the Middle East may have helped provoke the attacks.
Moreover, McKinney once hand-wrote, but never submitted, a bill to impeach Bush. With each passing revelation about the Bush Administration, McKinney’s charges seem increasingly less far-fetched, and McKinney herself much less radical as she seemed. The unfortunate timing of her incident with the policeman threatened to undermine her rising credibility and has surely endangered her upcoming primary run.
But, I like her.
I can’t help it.
Her smile is positively contagious and her energy is inspiring. She
is, in the final analysis, a nut. And we could use a lot more nuts
in Congress. A lot more people who are unafraid to speak truth to
power, to stand up for those who cannot speak for themselves. In an
environment poisoned by lobbyists and special interests, McKinney’s
reputation is she shows up for work. She’s aggressive. She comes to
win. That’s why I take her to task here, for giving the Washington beast
an opportunity to pierce her armor. That so beautiful and
intelligent and inspiring a black woman could come across as petty,
shallow and self-serving—which I doubt she actually is—is an awful
shame. I also doubt
she’s stupid; she must know the Washington establishment would love
to be rid of her. why on earth she’d give them an opportunity to do
her harm is beyond me.
So far as the facts of the case are concerned, from what I can surmise, I believe she just snapped, lashing out in anger. It was wrong of her to strike the officer, but, conversely, it is unlikely she intended the officer any real harm. I doubt she hit him with any more force than a chastising church lady. Both sides blew this out of proportion, but it was McKinney who ultimately lost. She’s experienced enough to be smarter than that, to know how the political games work in Washington. And, mostly, that the moment a black woman cries racism, it is she herself who is put on trial.
My annoyance at McKinney is mostly about two little boys in Milwaukee, and the fact I have not heard their names mentioned on the news since this McKinney thing broke. Instead, all I saw was McKinney defending the indefensible: look, she hit the guy. Bottom line, the cops wanted her to eat it and she threatened Armageddon to avoid having to take that hit, only to have to take the hit anyway when she was likely confronted by her friends who, I imagine, warned her that she was becoming her own worst enemy. I imagine the Congressional Black Caucus’s tepid response to all of this was a fair indicator that McKinney had placed them into an impossible position. They had to back their popular ally, but they knew she was wrong. And she knew it, too. This was becoming more about pride, about bruised egos, than anything else. None of which meant McKinney was wrong, but that she was being rope-a-doped by forces determined to undermine her political career.
Her pale and insincere apology—which bordered on sarcasm—smacked of immaturity. She should have apologized to the officer, apologized to the officer’s family, especially the bad example she set for his children. She should have apologized to the Capitol police, who daily risk their lives working in ground zero for terrorists and nuts hoping to write political statements in blood. She should have apologized not for calling the incident racial profiling, but for squandering an opportunity to bring light to that issue by striking the officer—something no one should ever do. That’s the overall tone of the statement she should have made.
Instead, she was like an unrepentant ten-year old facing bedtime without supper. Her apology was mealy-mouthed and insincere, and she smirked her way through it, clearly under pressure and reluctant to give up her fight; the choked-out half-a-loaf murmuring of someone forced to swallow their own spleen.
Claims of racial bias grounded in transparent self-interest only make the struggle of achieving actual social justice that much harder. Rep. McKinney has squandered precious time and even more precious energy and goodwill while taxing white America’s patience such that, when next we step up to protest substantive issues of social justice, we’ll have to work that much harder to be deemed credible and taken seriously. All of this because some cop grabbed her arm.
I’m grateful the circus has left town. I am deeply saddened that there is still not one word mentioned about the missing boys. Dozens of black Congressmen stood shoulder-to-shoulder with McKinney, but not one word from McKinney, from any of them, about Purvis and Dre.
I wish she was actually remorseful. I wish her apology was sincere.
It’s not. And she is perhaps too arrogant to even realize what she
truly should be sorry for: diverting precious airtime and precious
attention from things that really matter.
As of this writing, Purvis and Dre have still not come home.