Commentary

Congresswoman Endangers Capitol Security

by Neil C. Livingstone
Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) probably has done more to undermine Capitol security than any other member of Congress has done in many years, and perhaps ever. On March 29, she scuffled with a police officer who did not recognize her as she entered a U.S. House of Representatives office building. Rep. McKinney was admittedly not wearing the lapel pin thatentified her as a member of Congress, and had recently changed her hairstyle.

A police officer guarding the door reportedly asked her – three times, according to numerous media accounts – to stop, and when she disregarded his request and tried to barge her way through the security checkpoint anyway he attempted to stop her. McKinney – who frequently has been described (not just by political opponents) as “brash” and/or “arrogant” – took offense and (again, according to media reports) threw a cellphone at the officer, striking him in the chest. Now she faces possible arrest for assaulting the officer.      For her part, McKinney has resorted to a shopworn and lame set of excuses: She declared that she had been the "victim" of racial profiling and that the officer "inappropriately" touched her.  It was out-and-out "racism," she contends.  Capitol police officers, she continues in her defense, should be able to recognize all 435 members of the House of Representatives and 100 members of the Senate, irrespective of whether or not they wear theirentifying pins and/or have recently changed their appearance.      From the facts now known it seems clear that prosecutors should throw the book at her. Her careless and callous actions not only have put every member of Congress at risk but also have jeopardized U.S. Capitol security at its most basic level. In 1998, it should be remembered, a deranged gunman shot and killed two Capitol police officers, Jacob Chestnut and John Gibson, and wounded a third person. Following that chaotic incident, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), a leading member of the Congressional

Her careless and callous actions have jeopardized U.S. Capitol Security at its most basic level.

Black Caucus, paid tribute to the fallen officers in what should be cautionary words for Rep. McKinney: "We, too, are pained by the tragic death of two very fine officers who lost their lives while serving and protecting those of us who work and visit the nation's capital each day.  They made the ultimate sacrifice – they gave their lives so that others might live." As Rep. Waters observed, Capitol police officers are ready to put their lives on the line every day to protect the nation’s lawmakers – as well as, not incidentally, one of the great symbols of American democracy, the U.S. Capitol (and the adjacent congressional office buildings). If the officers hesitate, even for a second, to do their duty, fearful that some arrogant member of Congress might be offended by their actions, then the whole security system that protects America’s lawmakers will be at risk.   If a member of the Capitol police force is in fact out of line, or behaves inappropriately, then certainly that person deserves whatever punishment is appropriate. But no member of Congress is above the law – and none, certainly, is justified in assaulting any officer, particularly one who is protecting, with his or her life, the members of Congress themselves and their workplaces. If, as Rep. McKinney has charged, the officer who stopped her had been behaving inappropriately she should have made a complaint to appropriate authorities and asked for the incident to be investigated.        Moreover, if Rep. McKinney is correct in saying that she is not the only scofflaw, and that other members of Congress who regularly fail to wear theirentifying pins are routinely waived through security, then the Capitol police should revise their procedures to require that all members of Congress wear their pins – no exceptions allowed – or make alternative arrangements to gain access to the Capitol and the various congressional office buildings. In short, any reasonable security requirement that might be imposed must be administered fairly and uniformly, and should not be enforced at the discretion of the individual officer.      In the final analysis, however, it must be recognized that we live in dangerous times. Rep. McKinney obviously is not a terrorist or a deranged gunman. But she might have been. Had she actually been a terrorist and managed to gain entry to a House office building by loudly protesting that she was a member of Congress, she would have been in a position to kill or injure scores of people – including members of Congress and congressional staffers. The officer who attempted to stop her was just doing his job, and should be commended rather than assailed by a member of Congress who apparently believes that she is above the rules that apply to everyone else.