Black State Lawmaker Says Statehouse Security Treats Her Differently Than Her White Counterparts

Jun 6, 2018

Emilia Sykes

An African-American Ohio lawmaker says she's being treated differently than white lawmakers by the Ohio Highway Patrol troopers who handle security at the Statehouse, even when she wears her security badge and  pin marking her as a legislator.

Ohio Public Radio's Karen Kasler reports.

32-year-old Representative Emilia Sykes of Akron is in her second term in the legislature. She’s also the daughter of a former House member and a current state Senator. But Sykes says since February 2017, she’s had troopers and security stop at entrances her several times – once with the comment that she ‘didn’t look like a legislator’. She says she’s shared that often – most commonly when discussing stress levels on black women, who experience higher infant mortality rates, as she did with an older white male colleague.

“And I explained to him the story about walking in with another colleague, having my badge, having my pin, being validated by that colleague, but yet it was not enough for me to get in because I didn’t ‘look like a legislator’. And you could see the light bulb go off – like, oh, wow!”

And she says other African American women legislators have similar stories.  And Sykes says sometimes it’s happened in ironic moments – like leaving the Riffe Center, where lawmakers’ offices are housed.

“I kid you not, we were walking from the Riffe to the Statehouse in a group, and I was the only one stopped, and they requested to search my bag. I mean, I just left the meeting talking about how this happens all the time, I’m in a group of legislators and I was the only one stopped.”

Sykes says her story got public attention when a friend tweeted it out. Sykes says it’s not just offensive to her personally, it also affects her ability to do her job in a timely manner. And she says it raises real questions about what people think the face of leadership looks like.

“Is that face a middle aged, white male or is it a millennial black woman? And quite frankly, I’m hopeful that people can start to recognize that the leaders of our communities and the leaders of this state are not monolithic. And we have to recognize that.”

She notes that new security measures have been put into place in buildings on Capitol Square over the last few years, and her patience is wearing thin because but this keeps happening to her, and not to her colleagues. Sykes says she’s told the Ohio Highway Patrol and the House Speaker’s office about these incidents, and that the House Democrats’ legal counsel is compiling information. The Ohio Highway Patrol says it hasn’t received any formal complaints from Sykes, but has reached out to her to set up a meeting about her concerns.