Black Members: Tea Partiers Used N-Word

Posted March 20, 2010 at 3:53pm

Updated: 10:02 p.m.

Rep. André Carson (D-Ind.) said tea party protesters opposed to the health care reform legislation yelled racial epithets at Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Lewis’ chief of staff earlier today.

Carson said the taunts against Lewis came as the three men — all African-American — walked out of the Cannon House Office Building for votes this afternoon.

“They were shouting the N-word,” Carson said. “It was like a page out of a time machine.” Carson said Capitol Police surrounded the group and escorted them across the street to the Capitol.

And staffers and Members reported seeing Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) slurred for being a homosexual and a protester spitting on Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), another African-American lawmaker.

Cleaver’s office released a statement Saturday evening saying: “For many of the members of the [Congressional Black Caucus], like John Lewis and Emanuel Cleaver who worked in the civil rights movement, and for Mr. Frank who has struggled in the cause of equality, this is not the first time they have been spit on during turbulent times.”

The protester who spit on Cleaver was arrested, the statement said. But “the Congressman has chosen not to press charges. He has left the matter with the Capitol Police.” The Capitol Police were not immediately available for comment.

Carson said he didn’t feel physically threatened, though he was concerned for Lewis. But he added Lewis, a veteran of the civil rights movement, remained calm, telling him, “I’m being reminded of an old time.”

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (S.C.) echoed that sentiment, saying the shouting protesters harks back to his days marching for civil rights in his home state.

“It was absolutely shocking to me,” he said. “I heard people saying things today I had not heard since March 15, 1960, when I was marching to try to get off the back of the bus.”

Thousands of tea party activists descended on the Capitol grounds today to register their opposition to the health care overhaul.

Several Members, including Reps. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), John Garamendi (D-Calif.) and Diane Watson (D-Calif.), took to the House floor throughout the afternoon and evening to decry the protesters’ actions.