Tensions over ‘monkey’ email erupt in Alabama Legislature

May 19, 2017
Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, addresses the House of Representatives at the Alabama State House building in Montgomery, Ala., on Thursday, May 18, 2017. Rep. Givan spoke about what she believed was a racist email that was sent on Wednesday to dozens of legislatures and staff. (Albert Cesare/The Montgomery Advertiser via AP)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama lawmakers on Thursday first shouted at each other, and then held hands and prayed for unity, in the face of simmering tensions after a white legislator sent an email comparing lawmakers to monkeys.

The email, which black lawmakers condemned as racist, was an incendiary addition to a legislative session already tinged with conflict along racial lines as the Republican majority pushed through their redistricting map and black Democrats used procedural tactics to delay a vote on the plan they said minimized black voting influence.

“I’m not a monkey. My mother wasn’t a monkey, and neither was my father. You are a damn monkey,” Rep. John Rogers, a black lawmaker from Birmingham, shouted at the House member who sent the email. Rogers said the lawmaker responsible for the email had offered excuses, but not an apology.

Republican Rep. Lynn Greer, of Rogersville, forwarded a constituent email Wednesday to dozens of legislators and staff that described an experiment in which caged monkeys will eventually stop reaching for a dangling banana as they slowly accept the status quo because their predecessors were punished by being sprayed with water.

“This is how today’s House and Senate operates, and this is why from time to time, ALL of the monkeys need to be REPLACED AT THE SAME TIME!” the email read.

The email was sent as black lawmakers used procedural tactics to oppose the proposed new legislative districts.

Greer said he didn’t see the email as racist and considered it a joke about the need to replace incumbents in Congress.

House Speaker Mac McCutcheon asked lawmakers to hold hands and pray. Greer then apologized to House members.

“I stand before you tonight as humble as I can, apologizing for offending you. I wouldn’t have done it for anything in the world,” Greer said.

Rep. John Knight, the chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, said Greer statements were a positive step in “probably one of the worst sessions” in his two decades in the Legislature.

“Having said what you said here tonight, I hope it will be a healing point for all of us to more sensitive to each other,” Knight said.

The email titled “POLITICS Psychology” describes how monkeys are sprayed with water for reaching for a banana. Some black lawmakers on Wednesday night said the imagery drew comparisons to how civil rights protesters in Birmingham were sprayed with fire hoses.

“My father was one of five boys, and those five boys were some of the ones who got sprayed in Birmingham. Your email brought back a lot of emotions for the people who fought for the rights of all people,” Rep. Rolanda Hollis, D-Birmingham, told Greer Wednesday during debate on an unrelated bill.