Why 'tea party' defenders won't let N-word claims rest
Black congressmen's charges that they faced 15 N-word slings from 'tea partyers' in the run-up to the health-care vote tarred the movement. Will tea party insistence that the lawmakers present evidence help US move to a 'post-shame' era?
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So far, it's not clear what happened that day. Deciding to walk outside in the nice spring weather rather than take an underground tunnel, a group of black congressmen walked down the steps of the Capitol and to the Cannon House Office Building.Skip to next paragraph
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Hordes of tea party protesters surrounded them and can be heard on video yelling "Kill the bill! Kill the bill!" Reps. André Carson (D) of Indiana and John Lewis (D) of Georgia said in an interview right after the gauntlet walk that they'd also heard the N-word used 15 times by various people in the crowd. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D) of Missouri, who was also in the group, at first said a protester spit on him, but later clarified that the protester had allowed spittle to fly in his direction while yelling.
Since the alleged incident, at least one person used who initially corroborated the story, North Carolina Rep. Heath Shuler (D), who is white, has said he did not hear the epithet. The videographer who shot the only available video of the incident says he didn't hear the N-word, but added that it well could have happened, given the tenor of the verbal confrontation.
"A bright line was crossed on the 20th," says Christina Botteri, a spokeswoman for the Tea Party Federation. "The left constantly attacks conservatives as racist, as dumb, as evil, but what happened on the 20th is a sitting congressman, with the full voice and credibility of the House of Representatives, accused a group of citizens with whom he philosophically disagrees of assault and then refused to help find the persons responsible. They need to help us find the people responsible or apologize for making it up."
Conservative Web publisher Andrew Breitbart has accused the congressmen of lying about the incident in an effort to tar the tea party movement. He has gone so far as to offer a $100,000 donation to the United Negro College Fund for proof. Though it appears from footage that at least some of the congressmen's entourage were filming the walk, no one has claimed the bounty.
"[This] is a slander with real-world repercussions," Mr. Breitbart asserts on BigJournalism.com.