U.S. Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver (U.S. House)
With the final vote on healthcare reform scheduled in the U.S. House of Representatives less than twenty-four hours away, Tea Party protesters in Washington, D.C. showed their true colors today.
As President Obama continued rallying support for his historic healthcare legislation, the centerpiece of his domestic agenda, members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) faced rowdy protesters while making their way to the House for a vote.
Kansas City’s former mayor, and current representative in the fifth congressional district, Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver II (D-MO), was walking with members of the CBC earlier when one protester deliberately spat on him.
Cleaver’s office released a statement, thanking the Capitol Police for their quick response. The protester was arrested after assaulting the congressman , but Cleaver has opted not to press charges.
Cleaver was not the only member of the CBC harassed today. Congressman James Clyburn (D-SC) and Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) faced “abusive heckling.” Some Tea Partiers screamed racial obscenities. Cleaver, who had been walking behind Lewis, specifically heard the n-word. “It was a chorus,” he said.
Jasmine Pasley, Co-Chair of the Young Adult Committee and Co-Advisor of the Missouri State Youth and College Division at the local Kansas City chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), was displeased with the incident. She had this to say to the Tea Party protesters:
Spitting on another person solved what for you? Did your agenda get ahead? Did you prove your point and gain another follower for your cause? The distasteful act did nothing for the advancement of your agenda.
Meanwhile, Congressman Barney Frank, an openly gay Democrat from Massachusetts was harassed by protesters screaming derogatory slurs with “lisp-y” voices. He said a crowd of a couple of hundred shouted that he was a “homo.” The Huffington Post reports that the f-word was also shouted, and a CNN producer also heard the obscenity.
Frank wasn't too upset about the mess. In fact, he says he is simply disappointed by the lack of civility in the healthcare debate, and by the fact that the issue has become a proxy for ugly sentiments.
In the statement released this afternoon, Cleaver’s office said that this was not the first time he and his colleagues had faced challenges during turbulent times. After all, he and his fellow members of the CBC had worked in the civil rights movement, and Congressman Frank has also “struggled in the cause of equality.”
Cleaver says the nation faces similar challenges every time people seek to expand their rights. The fight over healthcare is no different: “this is worth fighting for.”
Tay Triggs, the Director of the Center for Multicultural Education at Missouri Western State University (MWSU) in St. Joseph, says she agrees that "adversity and difficult times tend to bring out the worst in some people." Still, it's unfortunate that these sad incidents still happen. "No matter what these leaders of color have accomplished some will still deduce them to a skin color."
Although the actions of a few should not necessarily reflect poorly on the entire Tea Party, this is not the first incident that has caused some to ponder the role race plays in the motivation of the Tea Party movement.
Last summer, a protester's sign featured a picture of President Obama, designed to look like an African witch doctor. In response, Jimmy Carter, former president, has stated that racism has played a role in some of the challenges facing President Obama's proposals.
Triggs agrees. "I would argue that... people many times search for opportunities and causes that will allow them to perpetuate hatred and bigotry. This will always be the case unless those with power will, in an unwavering way, be leaders and not cowards."
GOP Chairman Michael Steele, on the other hand, accused President Carter of playing the "race card."
Pasley, who was actively involved in the student chapter of the NAACP at MWSU, even serving as the president of the group, doesn't think the "race card" matters here:
The racial obscenites that were tossed around were disgraceful. It painted the Tea Partiers in no better light than the individuals they harassed. The climate for hate groups has been one of fear, since the election of President Barack Obama. When fear is the driving force it is easy for people's actions to get out of hand.
Congressman Frank says he is disappointed that Republicans have done little to distance themselves from the Tea Party movement; and the GOP has yet to respond to or condemn the incident. "Where are the comments from the [CBC's] Republican counterparts?" asks Pasley, who also wonders what ever happened to "United we Stand." It's time "to reach across the aisle, across the neighborhood, across the city, across the state and across the nation and stand together for what is right and [oppose] what is wrong... we must be able to find common ground," she says.
Despite Pasley's sentiment, Democrats are denouncing today's inappropriate protester behavior, and they're calling on their colleagues across the aisle to do the same.
This article was last updated on Sunday, March 21, 2010 at 11:27 PM (CST).