In Defense of Cynthia McKinney

THE TRUTH ABOUT CYNTHIA McKINNEY
AND “THREE STRIKES”

By LEITH KAHL

A dangerous half-truth is being bandied about on some Green Party list-serves, and it is creating some dangerous misconceptions about Cynthia McKinney. The misconceptions come from an often-repeated statement that Cynthia McKinney supported the “Bill Clinton 3 strikes crime bill” by voting “in favor of” it while she was serving in Congress. This formulation appears to have been first used by Elaine Brown, in her open letter titled “Vicious Rumormongering Will Not Deter Me from My Campaign for the Green Party Presidential Nomination.” Neither Brown nor those who repeat her words cite a specific vote, thereby placing the burden of research upon Cynthia's supporters, even just to discover exactly what their candidate is being accused of.

So far, the only vote that anyone has been able to point out that seems like it could be the vote being objected to is the August 21, 1994, House vote on the omnibus package Senate Conference Report that included bill HR 3355, "The Crime Control and Prevention Act." This is now known as one of the central pieces of legislation in the infamous wave of "three strikes" legislation at both federal and state levels that has constituted a genocidal attack upon Black people, Latino people, and working class youth, and an accelerated expansion of the prison industrial complex.

Ironically, the vast majority of the Republicans, under Newt Gingrich's leadership, voted against this package, while the majority of Democrats, under their party's leadership, and also a two-to-one majority of the Congressional Black Caucus, including all of the CBC officers, voted for the package.

The Roll Call vote

The CBC members at the time

Why?

The reason becomes clear only when we look at the whole package.

Scroll down to “Bills of the same title”

The package included a tremendous number of bills that would likely have been beneficial to most people if enacted, including the Sexual Assault Prevention Act (died later in the same Congress), the Crimes Against Children Registration Act (died in the same congress), the Violence Against Women Act II (died in the 105th Congress, and again in the 106th Congress), the Workplace Violence Against Women Prevention Tax Credit Act (died in the 105th), the Battered Immigrant Women Protection Act (died in the 106th), the Battered Women's Shelters and Services Act (passed the House in the 106th Congress, but still not enacted), the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (actually enacted during the 106th Congress, intended to protect victims of sexual slavery, but clearly is not being enforced), and the Supporting Teens through Education and Protection Act (died in the 109th Congress).

After this vote, almost all the bills in that package were killed in committee, or buried so deeply that they did not come up again for three or six Congresses. The one exception, of course, was HR 3355, which was almost immediately expedited to the White House, and signed into law. Clearly, this was a maneuver by the leadership of both corporate parties, a sophisticated strategy to get a reactionary bill through a Democratic majority House. The strategy was to wrap the bill in progressive looking candy, have the Republican minority vehemently oppose the package, and have the Democratic leadership dupe their majority into thinking that they must be voting against something that Newt Gingrich hated.

It is worth noting that 12 members of the CBC were fast enough on their feet to figure out in time that they should vote against this package, thereby going against their party Whip, their CBC Whip, their CBC Chairman, both their CBC Vice Chairmen, and their CBC Treasurer. Those members were Conyers, Clay, Stokes, Dellums, Rangel, Lewis, Payne, Waters, Fields, Hilliard, Scott, and Watt.

It is also worth noting that five of those 12 are the five longest-standing Black members of the House, and therefore are the five who have the most experience in Congressional maneuvering.
Ongoing Crime Against Humanity

The 1990s wave of three strikes penal legislation is most certainly part of an ongoing crime against humanity. Whenever someone stands accused of complicity in such a serious crime, democratic principles demand that the accusation be clear and specific, and that the burden of evidence be on the accuser, not the accused. Otherwise, all that would be necessary to neutralize good people would be to endlessly accuse them of sensational things, and make them spend all their time trying to find out what they were accused of, let alone attempting to defend themselves.

This principle was affirmed by the hurricane survivors and allies, who organized the International Tribunal on Katrina in August of last year. Their charges were very specific. The federal, state, and local government officials charged were informed and given every opportunity to defend themselves. And the accusers did, with hard evidence, prove to the world beyond a shadow of a doubt that these officials committed acts of genocide against the Black people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, who are now Internally Displaced Persons.

In this specific matter, the facts do not support the sensational conclusion that McKinney supported three strikes. I would suggest instead that a more accurate conclusion would be that on August 21, 1994, the members of the House of Representatives were lied to by their party leaderships about the nature of a package that was being placed before them for a vote, and that a two-to-one majority of the Black people in the House, including the entirety of the CBC's officers and including Cynthia McKinney at that time, were deceived by this lie.

This conclusion is also more accurate than saying that Cynthia voted “in favor” of such an evil policy. In order for a human mind to be given a chance to oppose anything that is wrong and champion anything that is right, that mind must first be provided with accurate information. A critical step in providing a human mind with accurate information is liberating that mind from the lie machine that is the Democratic Party. Cynthia McKinney has now taken that epic step. We hope that this is something that even her critics outside the Democratic Party can appreciate.