FEATURED IN LEADERSHIP
Cops have long been society's gatekeepers. In addition to safeguarding the public, we ensure people follow rules. When people put themselves above the law, it's our responsibility to bring them back in line, to stop them and challenge their actions. This is especially important when someone who should set the example for others commits a violation in a very public way. Unfortunately, those in power sometimes feel they are above following the rules to which "normal" people must submit, and it's up to police to draw the line. It's not always easy to confront people in power, and the action entails risk personal and professional.
On March 29, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.), stepped around a security checkpoint at the U.S. Capitol. According to witnesses, the officer responsible for the checkpoint called out to her several times, using the word "ma'am" to get her attention. When she ignored him, the officer approached McKinney and placed his hand on her. She responded by striking him with her closed fist. When the officer demanded her ID, she complied and was allowed to leave. (If you think she should have been on the deck in handcuffs, members of Congress are not to be delayed in their duties. The officer took the high road, and I don't fault him one bit.)
Unfortunately, McKinney did not take the high road and went on the offensive almost immediately. In a statement issued later that day, she blamed the incident on racism and put the responsibility squarely on the officer because he didn't recognize her. Keep in mind there are 535 members of Congress, and new ones come in every two years, not to mention the daily influx of thousands of tourists.
During a press conference, McKinney said, "Capitol Hill Police are given face-recognition instructions as a part of their official training. Capitol Hill Police are required to recognize, greet and distinguish members of Congress as a part of their official role and responsibilities. In fact, according to the U.S. Capitol Police, their mission is to protect and support the Congress."
McKinney asserted she had been the victim of "inappropriate touching" and racism. She placed a similar written statement on her Web site and later added a section from Article I of the U.S. Constitution, which reads in part, "They [Congress] shall in all cases, except treason, felony and breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest during their attendance at the session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any speech or debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other place."
How ironic McKinney would use this section of the Constitution to somehow absolve herself of responsibility. Pay particular attention to the portion of the exception clause that includes the words "breach of the peace." This is exactly what McKinney did when she walked around the checkpoint, ignored commands to stop and struck the uniformed officer.
The initial action by McKinney was bad enough, but claiming that the officer's actions consisted of inappropriate touching and were motivated by racism is unconscionable. First, when a person ignores a uniformed officer, the officer has little course of action left but to make physical contact. Second, racism played no part in this case. Kudos to then-U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer who made this abundantly clear with his statement: "I've seen our officers stop white members and black members, Latinos, males and females. It's not an issue about what your race or gender is. It's an issue about making sure people who come into our building are recognized if they're not going through the magnetometer, and this officer at that moment didn't recognize her." (Gainer retired April 5.)
The U.S. Capitol Police have a tough job, and they do it very well. I've had the privilege of twice walking through the entire Capitol building with them, both before and after Sept. 11, and they are absolutely the epitome of professionalism. The security of the U.S. Capitol is essential to our nation's well-being and the safety of those who work there. You would think a U.S. lawmaker would understand this, as well as the need to respect the law. Less than seven years have passed since an armed gunman entered the Capitol and murdered two officers before being taken into custody; the checkpoints serve a very important function.
McKinney's basic assertion: The police officers should know her. My basic assertion: She should know better. Work with the officers, not against them. I like the way North Carolina Representative Patrick McHenry put it: "Ignoring a police officer's order to stop or hitting one is never okay." McHenry subsequently introduced a measure to recognize the professionalism and commitment of the U.S. Capitol Police. The McKinney incident has been referred to a federal grand jury. I hope it has the wherewithal to send a clear message: McKinney was wrong. You don't strike police officers, and if you do, you get punished. --Dale Stockton, editor