Laurel Thatcher Ulrich once pointed out that, "Well behaved women rarely make history." Perhaps she should have added that women who are deemed to have thrown what Marianne Means characterized as a "hissy fit" will surely become infamous.
While most of us would agree that taking a swing at a police officer is not a well considered thing to do, that does not invalidate McKinney’s charges of racism and inappropriate touching. Nor does it justify the vicious and ignorant political and media lynching that followed.
First of all, let’s get some facts straight. McKinney was not wearing her optional lapel pin, but according to WXIA-TV in Atlanta, she did show her Congressional ID. It is also not the first time that the Capitol police have failed to recognize McKinney, something that is documented in the new film "American Blackout". And as Representative Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now, the same thing has happened to her and sometimes the manner in which she has been treated, "is not necessarily accepting."
Nor is this is not the only time that charges of racial discrimination have been leveled against the Capitol Police. In 2001, Black Capitol police officers filed a racial discrimination suit against the department. Inappropriate behavior towards Black legislators has also not been limited to the nation’s capitol. At Coretta Scott King’s funeral, the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus was not allowed to join the funeral procession because the Georgia Capitol police did not recognize them as elected officials.
Astoundingly, the media lost no time in broadcasting Tom DeLay’s pronouncement that ethics charges should be brought against McKinney for her "outrageous" behavior. Did they think that a man who spearheaded a redistricting plan that the Justice Department has deemed to be in violation of the Voting Rights Act and who is leaving office because of his own unethical behavior was qualified to make such charges?
But most amazing was Neil Boortz’ bizarre rant about McKinney’s hairstyle on his nationally syndicated radio show. Boortz described her hair as "an explosion at a brillo factory" that made her look like "a ghetto slut" who "shows contempt for the position she holds" Sadly, Boortz’ "ghetto slut" characterization is probably not too far off from how many view McKinney.
It is telling that the media has not deemed it noteworthy to investigate her claims of inappropriate touching. While most of us know that it isn’t a good idea to take a stab at a cop with something so lethal as a cell phone, as a woman (and a lifelong pacifist), I can easily concede that my gut reaction to being touched in an uncomfortable way might well be to swing out with whatever might be in my hand. It’s unfortunate that the Capitol police will not release the video of the incident, one wonders what it might reveal.
The media has also made much about other Blacks and women in Congress not rushing to her aid. Of course these would be the same folks who didn’t question Bush’s claims of WMD’s, wouldn’t filibuster Alito (even though his nomination posed a grave risk to women’s rights), wouldn’t stand with Russ Feingold in his Censure of President Bush, etc. Spinal strength has never been a strong point among elected officials and in an election year, they tend to take on the persona of jellyfish.
It should be noted that McKinney briefly lost her seat because of a well orchestrated effort to retaliate for her outspoken views on such issues as the Iraq war and Palestinian human rights. Two years later she regained her seat. Perhaps this should be a cautionary note to her detractors. And certainly newspapers such as the Louisville Courier-Journal should consider doing some basic research before labeling McKinney’s actions as "groundless" because the reality is, the Congresswoman has a point.
LUCINDA MARSHALL is a feminist artist, writer and activist. She is the Founder of the Feminist Peace Network, www.feministpeacenetwork.org.