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Gary Younge
The wrong profile

In her book, "Volunteer Slavery" African-American writer and novelist Jill Nelson confesses that:

There is only one thing [my] ex-Husband ever said that I remember...there's nothing worse than being wrong around white folks.

As a grand jury gears up to hear testimony regarding Georgia congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, those words never seem truer. Maybe.

McKinney is a radical, progressive, black Democrat who tried to enter the Capitol facilities in DC without the pin that identifies her as a member of Congress and that Congress people are supposed to wear as a badge of entry.

A policeman grabbed her and tried to stop her; according to reports Ms McKinney hit him. Earlier this week a warrant went out for her arrest. McKinney has accused the police of racist racial profiling - as one of just a handful of legislators she says, these people should have known whom she was. Instead they focused on her race and tried to exclude her

"Face recognition is the issue," she said. "The pin doesn't have my name on it and it doesn't have my picture on it, and so security should not be based on a pin ... People are focused on my hairdo."

Pollice say she assaulted an officer who was just doing his job. "This is not about personality," added House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. "It's not about racial profiling. It's about making this place safer."

That McKinney should have been wearing her pin there should be no doubt. But the nub of the matter is this. If the police check for everybody's pin and treat everyone not wearing one as they did Ms McKinney, then she is at fault, should apologise and move on. If it is a rule that is selectively and rarely applied then she is absolutely right and should stand her ground.

Just as she shouldn't expect special treatment she shouldn't receive special treatment either. The issue is whether her treatment was consistent and proportionate. To take a far clearer example: Rodney King may have been on PCP when the LAPD caught him but that doesn't justify his beating.

None of this should detract from McKinney's brave political stances on a number of issues from civil rights to the war. But nor should it detract from the priorities of promoting social justice and racial equality. It's Cynthia; it's not Katrina.

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Stranger in a Strange Land – Encounters in the Disunited States
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'It often takes an outsider to look inside. This is especially true of the United States.'
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