Here's The Thing: It's Not Race

Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., speaks during the 38th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Service at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta in this Jan. 16, 2006 file photo.
AP Photo/Ric Feld
This story was written By's Jennifer Hoar

On his way to being sworn in on his first day in Congress, Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Fla., was stopped on the East side of the Capitol.

"Where'd you get that pin, son?" he was asked by a Capitol police officer. With his red hair, fair skin and the youthful looks of a college freshman, Putnam, now 33, told the officer, "I worked very hard to get this pin, sir."

Putnam says that encounter was the first of many, both adorned and unadorned with his Congressional pin, when he would be asked to identify himself to police officers on the Hill.

Similarly, last week, Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., was stopped by security while entering a House office building, her lapel pin absent. Yet McKinney refused to pause when asked and a confrontation with an officer, in which she alleges to have been touched inappropriately, ensued. Shortly thereafter, she claimed that she was being singled out, even racially profiled, by the police.

"This whole incident was instigated by the inappropriate touching and stopping of me – a female, black, progressive Congresswoman," McKinney said at a press conference last Friday.

Yet Putnam, and others, contest this characterization of McKinney's incident as a racially-motivated one.

"I've been stopped because of my young age, but I don't believe that is age discrimination," Putnam explains. "I'd bet dollars to donuts that I've been stopped more times than Congresswoman McKinney."

Spokesman Ryan Loskarn says he has been with his boss, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., on three occasions when she's been stopped by Capitol police, both with and without her pin attached to her jacket. When this happens, Loskarn says, "She stops, says hello, and says who she is."

"There has never been an unpleasant confrontation situation," Loskarn explains. Blackburn believes in giving the officers the "benefit of the doubt... it's not asking too much for a Member to stop."