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Gutiérrez Recalls Racial Profiling Incident at Capitol

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

During a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on the state of civil rights Tuesday, Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez revisited a 1996 exchange that raised the issue of racial profiling in Capitol security.  

A few minutes into his testimony on police practices, the Illinois Democrat recounted, "when I was stopped and refused admission to this very Capitol complex earlier in my career because, as the Capitol Hill police officer said, 'I didn't look like a congressman.' "Too many have faced profiling, subtle and explicit, annoying, — and yes, potentially dangerous — when the profiler has a badge or has a gun," he continued.  

The incident, four years into the congressman's 11-term career, was well-documented at the time. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy included it in a 1996 floor speech . The Massachusetts Democrat, speaking to an amendment on immigration legislation, summarized a Washington Post report to his colleagues:

A Capitol Police security aide refused to accept the congressional identification of Representative Luis V. Gutierrez as he tried to enter the Capitol and told him and his daughter to "go back to the country you came from,'' the representative said yesterday.

Gutierrez . . . said that he was walking into the main visitor's entrance to the Capitol on March 29 with his 16-year-old daughter and 17-year-old niece when he was approached by the security aide.

The aide [I will leave that out; it is printed in the story] has been suspended with pay pending an internal investigation, said Sgt. Dan Nichols, Capitol Police spokesman.

The Congressman said that he and the girls were carrying Puerto Rican flags during a Puerto Rican appreciation day ceremony and were putting them through an X-ray scanner when Hollingsworth began "screaming'' at him for allowing the flags to slightly unfurl, he said.

"She said she didn't want to see the flags, and I told her I would take care of them,'' Gutierrez said. "Then she said, 'Who do you think you are?' When I told her I was Congressman Gutierrez, she said, `I don't think so.' ''

Gutierrez said that when he presented his congressional identification card, Hollingsworth "said that my identification must have been a fake. Then she said, `Why don't you all go back to the country where you came from.' She was rabidly angry.''

Gutierrez said the confrontation went on for about a minute until a Capitol Police sergeant noticed what was happening and, recognizing the Congressman, and ushered Hollingsworth away.

"From the very first time she was talking to me, she was yelling,'' Gutierrez said. "She thought we were foreigners from another country, and she was very resentful of that. Twice she told us to go back to our country.''

That has happened to a Congressman of the United States in the last few weeks here in the Nation's Capitol. What kind of chance is a worker going to have, out in the boondocks, American worker, trying to get through, when you run against that kind of an attitude?

Mr. President, this is a real problem. It is happening here in the Nation's Capitol, and it is happening around the country.

The security aide was reportedly reinstated following the investigation. Capitol Police required Stacia Hollingsworth to undergo sensitivity training before being assigned a public contact position, according to media reports at the time. The department called the run-in an isolated incident.  

Gutiérrez also recounted the story in his 2013 memoir, "Still Dreaming: My Journey from the Barrio to Capitol Hill."  

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