McKinney Urged to Cool Rhetoric
By: Hazel Trice Edney
NNPA Washington Correspondent
Originally posted 4/10/2006
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) is being advised to tone down her language by someone who knows her best – her father.
“After all of this, I would probably give her the same advice that I gave her in the beginning,” says Billy McKinney, the Congresswoman’s father, a former police officer. “To get along in America, in this society, it might be better to go along and get along,” he said, repeating advice he’d given her when she first won election to the Georgia General Assembly in 1988. “I’m talking about not putting yourself out because you won’t find that a whole lot of Black people will back you when you get out there,” McKinney says in an interview with the NNPA News Service. “I don’t think she’ll ever be understood by a segment of this country.”
And perhaps nor will he. When she was defeated, he created a stir when he blamed Jews for her downfall.
Controversy seems to be a life-style for Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney.
In 2002, then five-term McKinney lost her seat after a string of controversies that included her accusation that the Bush Administration knew in advance about the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and may have benefited from it. She later recanted saying she had no proof of her allegation.
In the latest debacle, she accused a White police officer of “inappropriate touching” and racial profiling after a March 29 incident in which the unidentified officer allegedly grabbed her when she bypassed a metal detector. Members of Congress are not required to pass through the detectors. However, McKinney was not wearing her lapel pen, identifying her as a member. She has also recently changed her hairstyle from her trademark two braids to a loose natural.
“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,” McKinney said on CNN with Wolf Blitzer in an interview following the incident.
The congresswoman allegedly struck the officer with her cell phone in reaction to his touch after she failed to stop.
A federal grand jury will decide whether to charge her with a crime. No decision was made by NNPA deadline. Capitol Police spokeswoman Sgt. Kimberly Snider said the police was still reviewing McKinney’s statements on the House floor.
After a whirlwind of press conferences, news appearances and interviews, McKinney apologized on the House floor April 6.
“I come before this body to personally express again my sincere regret about the encounter with the Capitol Hill Police,” she said. “There should not have been any physical contact in this incident. I have always supported law enforcement and will be voting for H. Res. 756, expressing my gratitude and appreciation to the professionalism and dedication of the men and women of the U. S. Capitol Police. I am sorry that this misunderstanding happened at all and I regret its escalation. And I apologize.”
In her carefully-crafted statement, McKinney bemoans “physical contact” but did not directly admit her complicity.
McKinney did not return repeated phone calls from the NNPA News Service.
A police officer for 21 years before retiring and winning a seat in the Georgia State legislature, Billy McKinney says he was one of those who advised his daughter to apologize.
“We want to end this and go on,” he says. From the standpoint of a former police officer, McKinney says, “He grabbed her and I guess he was doing his duty. I’ve grabbed a thousand people like that. I would imagine that he was doing his duty as he saw it,” he says. On the flip side, McKinney says the officer could have acted differently without touching his daughter. “I would have told her, ‘Hold it. Hold it right there.’ And then I would have lectured her until I found out she was a congressman because no congressman goes through the X-Ray machine.”
Georgia State Rep. Tyrone Brooks, a die-hard McKinney supporter, participated in a press conference along with a host of clerical and other Black civic organizations in Georgia. He says Republicans exploited the incident for political gain.
But Brooks, who has known McKinney for 30 years, chaired her congressional campaign for 10 years and describes her as “like family, like one of my sisters,” says something needs to change. He says if she asked his advice, he would give it.
“I would say to Cynthia, ‘Cynthia, a long time ago, you were deemed to be an easy target on the other side of the aisle. And we were taught in the civil rights movement by Dr. King and Dr. Abernathy and Hosea Williams and other great leaders, that before our enemies can destroy you, they first make you angry. Never allow your enemy to push you to the point where your enemy knocks you off course to the point where you lose your temper or you don’t control your composure,’” Brooks says. “And I would say, ‘You’ve got to keep your guard up because they’ll always be coming after you.’”
While her constituents spoke up, few members of McKinney’s colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus were willing to speak at all. The usually outspoken Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and CBC Chairman Mel Watt (D-N.C.) declined comment through spokespersons.
U. S. Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas), who stood by McKinney during her apology to the House, says she thinks McKinney should continue to express herself freely.
“I’ve seen her in different categories. And I feel that she will monitor her own temperament and be guided by her own moral compass,” Lee says. “We are different. There are moments when you are popular and there are moments when you are unpopular. But your goals are the same, to make America better. And I think Congresswoman McKinney works every day to make America better.”
Former CBC Chair Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) praised the work of Capitol Police, who have tightened security since the Sep. 11 terrorist attacks.
“I can’t say what she was doing. But I think anybody who has dealt with the police here on Capitol Hill, know that they do an outstanding job. They really do. They work very hard to protect the members of Congress and the public and mistakes are made,” Cummings says. “I talked to her lawyer directly. And I said to him I thought that this was a matter that needed to be resolved at the earliest possible moment so that we can all get it behind us.”
Julia Hare, a psychologist and co-founder of the Black Think Tank in San Francisco, Calif., says she was particularly taken aback by the personal attacks on McKinney from conservative talk show hosts during the controversy.
Atlanta-based conservative talk show host Neal Boortz said she looks like a “ghetto slut” with her new natural hairstyle and that it looks like “an explosion in a Brillo pad factory.”
Says Hare, “They do not criticize the Black women, the rap artists who have blond hair, which is an imitation of them.”
Hare says she believes the whole situation was based on race. “Had this been a Black man and Cynthia McKinney been a White woman, then the Black security guard would have been dismissed…Black women do not understand that Cynthia McKinney, whether you agreed with her or not – Cynthia McKinney represents you. It will be Cynthia McKinney today and you tonight because they look at us as a monolithic group. They look at us as plantation mammies no matter how high we go.”
The insult about McKinney’s hair surfaced on the same day talk show host Rush Limbaugh called the Black student allegedly raped by three White Lacrosse players at Duke University a “Ho,” the street term for the word whore.
Hare dismissed Limbaugh scoffing, “Rush Limbaugh, with his drug-addicted self wouldn’t even be on the air if he was a Black person doing what he was doing.” Three years ago Limbaugh confessed to an addiction to prescription drugs and to purchasing them from an illegal drug market.
Asked if Black women are under attack, Mary Frances Berry, former chair of the U. S. Commission on Civil Rights, quipped, “Not any more than usual.”
However, she says, McKinney should have understood that she was already “starting behind the eight ball” when she accused the police officer of racism.
“There’s always a presumption because of the way Black people are treated and the way we are in society and racism and subordination that we’re going to be less believable than other people,” says Berry. “She should have understood that. And I can understand why you get angry when things happened. But even if her version of it was true, she just had to understand that the way the press operates and the way things play out that, given that he’s a police officer, that the police naturally, and everybody was going to come to his defense, probably, she should have had to just swallow it and, you know, go on. That’s unfortunate and you shouldn’t have to do that, but she got made out as a crazy Black woman.”
Despite all the controversies, Billy McKinney says he is deeply proud of his daughter having been again elected to Congress. But he says, there have been serious repercussions on him and his wife, Leola, in the DeKalb County-based 4th Congressional District.
“It’s been devastating for us over the last 10 years,” he said. “For her to be elected from Georgia, we’ve received hate mail, we’ve been vandalized, our front yard and back yard vandalized. We’ve had to call the police and they had to lock up some [White] fella from Texas who had her house staked out…The Republicans have given her holy hell.”
He says she was outspoken even as a high school student at St. Joseph’s Catholic School, which had an all White cheerleading squad until McKinney led a boycott and the squad admitted its first Blacks. She eventually joined the squad.
Some see her as a cheerleader for justice.
Chuckling, Billy McKinney confessed that she got her ways honestly. “My wife just said I was a trouble-maker. A whole lot of Black policemen got promoted because of my picketing and agitating.”
Says Brooks: “We still support her. She is one of our most valued representatives and we will stick with her until the end.”