Black lawmaker who had racist threats leveled against her chided by white colleague

By: - December 8, 2020 7:17 am

Reps. Cynthia Johnson (left) and Mary Whiteford (right) | House Democrats and House Republicans photos

State Rep. Cynthia Johnson (D-Detroit) said she received a barrage of hateful voicemails, including a death threat, following Wednesday’s House Oversight Committee hearing where people falsely claimed that voting fraud had taken place in Detroit during the Nov. 3 presidential election. 

On Monday, the Black first-term lawmaker made public on Monday a critical response from her colleague, state Rep. Mary Whiteford (R-Casco Twp.), who is white. Johnson told the Michigan Advance she was “not surprised” by it. 

“I don’t understand why you would share this with me and other representatives, Cynthia,” Whiteford wrote to Johnson via email. “By the way, I am shocked that you had that poor woman [Jessy Jacob] spell out her name, during the hearing. You put her life at risk.”  

Jacob had previously been identified during the hearing — as is standard practice at all legislative hearings — and in an affidavit that was included in a lawsuit alleging voter irregularities. Both are public information.

Whiteford further described Johnson’s conduct during the hearing was “heartless” and that she should have “compassion for those you disagree with.”

Johnson, an African American, on Saturday shared one of the voicemails on her Facebook page. On it, a woman began by calling her a “fu–ing old, fu–ing Black cu–.”

“Honey, how dare you bully witnesses on the stand. Your name and phone number’s out there now,” a voice on the phone said. “You’re gettin’ doxxed, bitch. You’re done. You’re so fu–ing done. You should be swinging from a fu–ing rope, you Democrat. You fu–ing Democrats stealin’ the election. You deserve everything you fu–ing get.”

The woman concludes by saying, “Democrats are goin’ down, especially big lip ni–ers like you.”

The meeting featured President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Guiliani, who is now reportedly hospitalized for COVID-19. 

Johnson, Democratic vice chair of the committee, on Monday told Michigan Advance that she is not surprised by the response that she received from Whiteford and that she felt that it was important to share it. 

“I wasn’t shocked but I was disappointed,” Johnson said about Whiteford and her return email. “I said, ‘Oh, man this lady is a true racist.’ I knew that it needed to be exposed.”

Whiteford also issued a statement. 

“First and foremost, racism and violence have no place in our society and those who sent these horrifying messages to Representative Johnson should be held accountable. It was wrong, and she should never have to face such hate.”

“In my response,” Whiteford continued. “I pointed out that the belittling treatment to the woman who was testifying was offensive and I feared it was also meant to humiliate or intimidate. Nobody should ever have to deal with that.”

Johnson said that a few of her colleagues have reached out to offer support and comfort after numerous hate calls. Others have said, ‘We have received threatening messages, too.” 

Johnson has responded: “You have not received messages telling you that you are going to hang. And that you are a big-lipped Ni–er.”

The exchange between Johnson and Whiteford is similar one earlier this year involving state Sen. Kim LaSata (R-Bainbridge Twp.) and Senate Democrats for a resolution marking the Juneteenth holiday, which acknowledged when African Americans in Texas learned about the end of slavery. During the Senate session, LaSata appeared to admonish Democratic colleagues for speaking out on racism and asked them to “walk across the aisle” and address issues in private, not public.  

Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor), who is Afro-Latina, said at the time that the issue was “so deep that it warrants a larger, broader, public conversation, not one that is quiet and can be ignored or denied.”

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.