“Americans across the country have flooded Congressional offices with phone calls asking them to vote “No” on repealing the Affordable Care Act,” thundered Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) on the House’s repeal of Obamacare. “Today is a sad day for America but the fight is not over.”
A sudden fan of democratic protest, Cleaver has yet to own up to his critical role in turning an innocent Obamacare protest in March 2010 into an imagined racial brouhaha. The occasion was a Tea Party-style rally protesting the impending congressional vote on Obamacare.
Although members of Congress almost always take the tunnel to get from the Cannon Office Building to the Capitol and back, that afternoon three members of the Black Caucus chose to walk through the gathered crowds. At the Capitol, Andre Carson, one of only two Muslims in Congress, told reporters what happened en route. Fortunately, the audio exists.
As Carson explained, he and Rep. John Lewis were “walking down the steps” of the Cannon Office Building when they heard ‘n-word, n-word,’ at least fifteen times, hundreds of people, and Capitol Police finally became aware and started protecting us.”
On the return to the Cannon Office Building from the Capitol, a larger contingent of the Black Caucus chose to avoid the tunnel, hoping to provoke the hundreds of racists Carson insisted were there. They also carried at least three video cameras among them.
As the numerous videos of the walk showed, the Congress members passed without violence, threats of violence, or even profanity. In the group was Cleaver, the chair of the Black Caucus. He and his colleagues walked unmolested up the Cannon steps until an inattentive Cleaver, flanked by a police officer, passed right in front of a man who had been shouting “kill the bill” through cupped hands for at least the last ten seconds.
The shouter “allowed saliva to hit my face,” Cleaver would later tell the Washington Post. About a minute after the incident, Cleaver returned to the scene of the presumed crime with a police officer. As the video made embarrassingly clear, Cleaver failed to recognize the shouter even though he was standing right in front of him, and the man was still shouting.
Less than ninety minutes after the group’s return to the Cannon Building, a reporter for the McClatchy Newspapers posted a story whose inflammatory headline read, “Tea party protesters scream ‘nigger’ at black congressman.” Forgive our use of the n-word, but when editors use it in full, they use it to incite. The reporter quoted Cleaver as saying, “It was a chorus. In a way, I feel sorry for those people who are doing this nasty stuff – they’re being whipped up.”
The article implied that Cleaver was walking with Lewis, the congressman in question, from the Cannon Office Building to the Capitol when this happened, but he was not. Cleaver accompanied Lewis only on the way back, which suggests that there should be evidence of racial slurs both coming and going. Despite publisher Andrew Breitbart’s offer of a $100,000 reward for such a video, the chorus went unrecorded, either coming or going. In fact, not a single racial slur was picked up on any camera anywhere.
That same afternoon Cleaver’s office put out a press release saying that Cleaver had been spat upon. “The man who spat on the congressman was arrested, but the congressman has chosen not to press charges,” read the release. This was all inarguably false. “There were no elements of a crime, and the individual wasn’t able to be positively identified,” Sgt. Kimberly Schneider of the US Capitol Police would tell Fox News.
None of this mattered to Cleaver’s champions at the Kansas City Star, a McClatchy paper. On the day after the protest, Star editorial page columnist, Yael T. Abouhalkah, made the toxic claim that “some Tea Party supporter spat on Cleaver Saturday on Capitol Hill because the U.S. congressman is black.”
To ratchet up the racial tension a wee bit more, Abouhalkah repeated as fact the rumor that “someone spat on him, while the word ‘nigger’ was used to describe Cleaver and other black congressmen.” This was horribly wrong and easily disproven.
Abouhalkah is gone, but no one at the Star has ever apologized for this almost criminally fake news. Neither has Cleaver. It’s not too late.