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The Touchable and the Untouchable

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  • Robert Sterling
    Please send as far and wide as possible. Thanks, Robert Sterling Editor, The Konformist http://www.konformist.com April 17 , 2006 The Touchable and the
    Message 1 of 1 , May 2, 2006
      Please send as far and wide as possible.

      Thanks,
      Robert Sterling
      Editor, The Konformist
      http://www.konformist.com

      April 17 , 2006

      The Touchable and the Untouchable
      A Tale of Two Members of Congress and the Capitol Hill Police
      By JEFFREY BLANKFORT
      Counterpunch.org

      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 jblankfort@....
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