Sunday, March 21, 2010

Tea-Party Protesters Shout Slurs and Spit On Members of Congress

Like many others, I have written numerous entries about the tea-party movement and their rhetoric at various protests around the country. I wrote about how the Cincinnati Tea Party and 9/12 Project posted a letter comparing the actions of the Obama Administration to Hitler, I wrote about a local town hall forum where protesters shouted down and chased Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-OH), and this is what I wrote back in August:

...this type of anger is not rooted in, nor is it specifically about, health care reform. This is the same kind of rage that we saw during the campaign for President when the right-wing supporters of John McCain claimed that Obama was a terrorist, that his friends were terrorists, and that he was going to destroy America. This is the same kind of rage that we saw once Obama took office and tea parties were organized in opposition to the stimulus. This is the same kind of rage that we see from time to time when the issue of race is brought up either in the Henry Gates case, the nomination of a Latina to the Supreme Court, or the legitimacy of Obama's birth certificate. They claim that Obama is a racist, a foreign-born operative, and imply that he isn't really "one of us". This rage has now morphed into the opposition to health care reform, but it still has the same ugly undercurrent that is all too recognizable.

This ugly undercurrent reared its head once again yesterday with a tea-party protest in Washington.

As Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) and Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN) walked past tea-partiers on the Hill, protesters shouted "kill the bill" and some also shouted "nigger" at the two members of Congress. This was not an isolated incident as it was also reported that when Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) was exiting a building earlier in the day, he was greeted with shouts and being called a "faggot" which prompted the crowd to erupt in laughter.

In a third disturbing incident, a staffer for Rep. James Clayburn (D-SC) reported that Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MD) was spit on by a protester. Cleaver's office released this statement in response to the incident:

For many of the members of the CBC, like John Lewis and Emanuel Cleaver who worked in the civil rights movement, and for Mr. Frank who has struggled in the cause of equality, this is not the first time they have been spit on during turbulent times.

This afternoon, the Congressman was walking into the Capitol to vote, when one protester spat on him. The Congressman would like to thank the US Capitol Police officer who quickly escorted the others Members and him into the Capitol, and defused the tense situation with professionalism and care. After all the Members were safe, a full report was taken and the matter was handled by the US Capitol Police. The man who spat on the Congressman was arrested, but the Congressman has chosen not to press charges. He has left the matter with the Capitol Police.

This is not the first time the Congressman has been called the "n" word and certainly not the worst assault he has endured in his years fighting for equal rights for all Americans. That being said, he is disappointed that in the 21st century our national discourse has devolved to the point of name calling and spitting. He looks forward to taking a historic vote on health care reform legislation tomorrow, for the residents of the Fifth District of Missouri and for all Americans. He believes deeply that tomorrow's vote is, in fact, a vote for equality and to secure health care as a right for all. Our nation has a history of struggling each time we expand rights. Today's protests are no different, but the Congressman believes this is worth fighting for.

As the health care reform legislation is gearing up for a vote by the House of Representatives, it is clear that the ugly undercurrent, which was evident during the summer town hall meetings, has once again bubbled up to the surface. As Barney Frank told Talking Points Memo, the health care reform debate has indeed become a proxy for other underlying sentiments.

This piece is cross posted here.

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