U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney's much belated-apology for punching a U.S. Capitol patrol officer didn't answer a burning question — was she the victim of racial profiling, or "legislating while Black," as she claimed? Or was it a hotheaded overreaction to a patrol officer simply doing his duty?
The Capitol officer was White, and that opened the door wide for McKinney to scream racism. But if the Capitol officer had been Black, it would have been a moot point. McKinney would have been deservedly criticized for obstructing an officer who was trying to do his job. And Capitol police say that's exactly what he was doing.
McKinney is certainly well aware that jitters over a possible terrorist attack on federal buildings have made Capitol police super-diligent about giving anyone and everyone that steps into the Capitol building the third degree. McKinney didn't help her case by not having her Congressional ID pin on her lapel. 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.
Not one caucus member publicly charged to her defense, 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. She's been pounded by Republican House members, and that includes scandal-plagued former Texas Republican Rep. Tom DeLay, embarrassed by the silence of the caucus, taunted with borderline racist barbs from TV and radio talk show jocks about her physical appearance and her hairstyle, humiliated into making a shamefaced public apology and is under threat of federal prosecution.
McKinney was misguided and off-target in taking a big verbal shot at Capitol police for personal racial persecution. But it got big play in the press for a couple of reasons. In past years, the caucus raised heck when a White Republican Representative punched a Black Capitol police officer, and a year later Rep. Louis Stokes, D-Ohio, was hassled by Capitol police. The Congressional Black Caucus rushed to their defense.
Then there was the howl that went up a decade ago when a slew of former President Bill Clinton's Black female appointees and would-be appointees were slammed on the political hot seat.
Clinton's first pick to head the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, Lani Guinier, drew fire for her views on racial redistricting. The Wall Street Journal dubbed her the "quota queen," a not-so-subtle play on the public belief that Black woman = welfare leech. Clinton quickly dumped Guinier.
Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders, M.D., suffered a similar fate. Her intemperate remarks on abortion, condoms and drug decriminalization brought an angry cry from many conservatives. She was smeared as an advocate of sexual promiscuity and drug use.
Then there's McKinney. She's plainly not liked in Washington. She's brash, outspoken and has been a relentless critic of Bush's war and domestic policies. Her shoot-from-the-lip inference that Bush may have had a hidden hand in the Sept. 11 terror attacks inflamed White conservatives in and near her home district and embarrassed many of her Black constituents.
Conservatives targeted her for defeat in 2002, and many of her Black supporters either ducked for cover or voted for her opponent. She was soundly defeated.
McKinney won the seat back in the next election, but the bitter feelings didn't go away. Her case is still a torment for the voters that put her back in office. They deserve a representative that comports herself responsibly and with dignity. Her scream of racism gives more ammunition to the DeLays of the world that insist that any mention of racial injustice is a cheap play of the race card.
The McKinney saga is a sad one all the way around.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a columnist for www.blacknews.com.