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McKinney: Race sparked tiff with police

Lawmaker faces possible charges after allegedly striking officer

Rep. Cynthia McKinney said race is a reason that she was stopped by Capitol Police on Wednesday.


Justice and Rights
Harry Belafonte
Danny Glover

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- As U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Georgia, faces possible criminal charges for a Wednesday altercation with a Capitol Police officer, one of her lawyers said Friday that the real issues were "sex, race and Ms. McKinney's progressiveness."

In a news conference featuring actor Danny Glover and singer Harry Belafonte, McKinney said she would be exonerated and that "this whole incident was instigated by the inappropriate touching and stopping of me, a female, black congresswoman."

She had little else to say, citing the ongoing investigation into her allegedly striking a police officer after he failed to recognize her at a security checkpoint and tried to stop her from passing.

One Republican congressman dismissed the star-studded news conference. "Rep. McKinney appearing with the star of "Lethal Weapon"? Not exactly the message you want to be sending," said Ron Bonjean, spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

Asked Friday if Capitol Police intended to bring charges against the congresswoman, Sgt. Kimberly Schneider said only, "I know we're still investigating."

The 51-year-old legislator was surrounded by more than two dozen supporters at the Friday news conference, some carrying handwritten placards that read "Recognize our congresswoman" and "Is Cynthia a target?"

During the conference, held at historically black Howard University in Washington, civil rights attorney James Myart said his client was "assaulted" by a Capitol Police officer, whose name the department refuses to release.

"Because she was assaulted and placed in impending fear of her safety, she responded," he said. "This case has just begun and we're going to fight, and we're going to use the U.S. Constitution."

Myart said McKinney would seek a criminal investigation against the officer, and a civil lawsuit against both the officer and the Capitol Police is being explored.

However, McKinney's other attorney, Michael Raffauf, downplayed the possibility of pressing charges against the officer, saying, "Not every assault deserves to be criminally prosecuted."

Myart further called the incident racial profiling and said there was "no excuse" for Capitol Police not recognizing his client, and Raffauf said she was stopped solely because of her race, gender and politics.

"It is the job of the Capitol Police to protect members of Congress. As a part of that job, they are to know who those members are," he said. "Whenever you put a police officer out on the street, he is supposed to know his job."

Members of Congress are allowed to bypass the metal detectors and security checkpoint. They are supposed to wear a lapel pin that identifies them as lawmakers. McKinney acknowledges she wasn't wearing one when she was stopped, but concurred with Myart that police should know who she is.

"The pin is not the issue," the six-time congresswoman said. "The issue is face recognition."

Glover and Belafonte refrained from addressing the facts of the case and said they were there to support McKinney. Belafonte said he did not know what happened during the Wednesday incident but wanted to make sure the matter was handled on "a very fair and very square basis."

"We've watched her be abused in the past, and she's overcome, stood strong," the outspoken Belafonte said. "We're not going to be absent or indifferent to the fact that she may be abused again."

Added Glover, "We're not here to judge the merits of the case, but here to support our sister."

Representatives of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and National Organization for Women also spoke on McKinney's behalf.

McKinney represents a majority black district on the east side of metro Atlanta. She was first elected in 1992, but lost the seat in 2002. She regained it in 2004.

The congresswoman, who said she has had problems with Capitol Police not recognizing her in the past, demanded and received an apology from Bill Clinton's administration in 1998 after White House guards stopped her.

CNN's Brian Todd and Deidre Walsh contributed to this report.

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