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Published: Saturday, 4/8/2006

McKinney's run-in hardly racial

BY ROSE RUSSELL

CYNTHIA, girl, you so crazy.

Sure, your face is the same. But I didn't even recognize you with your new hairdo - if that's what you call it - in a photo I saw earlier this week.

I mean, hey, I'm black, too, and well acquainted with the hang ups folks have about our hair. For some, it's a political thing. Press and curl - although rarely anymore. Relaxer. Locks. 'fro - or natural, as they say these days. Braids. Cornrows. Twists. Short. Long. Whatever.

Change the do and voila, a new look. The truth is, unless one is intimately acquainted with us, somebody's likely to do a double take.

So I may not be alone in thinking that the controversy over Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney's new do, or undo, last week was a hot mess.

In case you've been out of media range the last several days, here's the update: When Ms. McKinney, a Democrat, entered the House of Representatives on March 29, she bypassed the metal detector. That was not unusual, since legislators are allowed to do that.

However, she was not wearing the lapel pin identifying her as a member of Congress. So a Capitol police officer asked her three times to stop. She did not.

Black parents teach their children to be cautious if stopped by police. As the officer tried to stop Ms. McKinney, he tried to restrain her. So she slugged him.

Come on, Ms. McKinney! None of us out here in the hinterlands could get away with popping an officer without winding up behind bars, in the hospital, or six feet under.

Young people, do not follow any of Ms. McKinney's example in this. When police ask you to stop and identify yourself, stop and identify yourself.

The officer says he didn't recognize Ms. McKinney since her trademark cornrows were gone. In photos earlier this week her brown hair was, well, everywhere.

It looked as if she had taken the cornrows out, did the finger thing, and kept going.

In this era of terrorism awareness, the officer did as expected to keep lawmakers safe. Perhaps he thought, "Who is that woman headed for Congress, without the lapel pin, and why won't she stop?"

Granted, Capitol police see her often, but must they remember every one of Congress' 535 faces?

I didn't recognize Ms. McKinney in recent photos.

Now, she could face assault charges in the case that's before a grand jury. Talk about being blown out of proportion!

On Thursday she offered "sincere regret(s)."

She said, "There should not have been any physical contact in this incident. I am sorry that this misunderstanding happened at all and I regret its escalation and I apologize."

You betcha, sister.

And then to characterize it as a "misunderstanding" is a nice try to back down from crying "racial profiling," as Ms. McKinney charged in media appearances before making the apology.

"This has become much ado about hairdo," she told CBS's The Early Show.

No, this is another demonstration that our representatives in Washington are all infected with pride and arrogance.

The "don't you know who I am" bug apparently doesn't only bite white men, but black women on Capitol Hill, too. (O.K. I won't bring up Carol Moseley Braun.)

In this post 9/11 world, Ms. McKinney should have produced her identification. The officer was only doing his job.

Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer put it succinctly:

"Any time an officer does not know who the person is coming in the building, I direct them to stop that person. And even if you're stopped, you're not supposed to hit a police officer. It's very simple. Even the high and the haughty should be able to stop and say, 'I'm a congressman,' and then everybody moves on."

It's interesting that as Democrats stew in embarrassment over her actions, none of Ms. McKinney's colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus has publicly defended her. Thank goodness that they have the fortitude to not join her in her foolishness. Leaving her out to cope on her own may have influenced her to tone it down and apologize.

Ms. McKinney can wear her hair however she wants. I don't care. When she changes it again, though, she should be ready to identify herself when asked.

And speaking of pride and arrogance and all, I wonder: what's this about former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay filing ethics charges against Ms. McKinney?

Talk about the pot calling the kettle, you know, black.



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