Michigan state Rep. Cynthia Johnson knows why she is being inundated with death threats after she confronted Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani during a Dec. 2 Michigan state oversight hearing over the 2020 election.
“You’re out of order for asking a white man such a question,” she told The Root. “That’s how I took it. You’re supposed to be on this committee just to show people that we have a Black figure, but you’re not supposed to say anything. ‘How dare you question us.’ That’s how we are treated. That’s how they dismiss us. That’s how we don’t get leadership roles. Our concerns are dismissed.”
Immediately after the hearing, hate messages and death threats followed. It was at this point that she posted a Facebook video defending herself. Then she started posting the racist voicemails she’d received from callers. But chopped-up versions of her video started circulating and conservative outlets began misconstruing her words. A colleague of hers called the next day telling her that different versions of the videos had gone viral.
“I’m not understanding any of it,” Johnson said. “I’m thinking, ‘Wait a minute. How could anybody possibly think that the video that I put out would be threatening?’ I didn’t find out until the next day, two o’clock in the morning, that this video had been cut up and diced up. Why would people be so mean? Why are they acting like this? Why are they even saying that I’m trying to create a war? Why would you do that?”
The threats have gotten so bad that local, state and federal agencies are investigating the threats, Johnson said. Law enforcement is patrolling Johnson’s Detroit home daily. While all of this is happening, Republican leadership has stripped her of her committee duties and launched an investigation into her video. The following day, she got a call from her daughter-in-law that her son couldn’t get out of bed. (He is better now.)
While Johnson is still in the throes of dealing with her son’s health scare, the vile messages keep coming. “I’m getting all these texts saying, ‘You cunt.’ I ain’t never been called a fucking cunt. It’s got to do something to your spirit when people keep saying things like that. And that’s what my staff is trying very hard to keep me from seeing. There’s more. There’s so much more that I have not seen.”
Johnson said that the incoming Republican house speaker, state Rep. Jason Wentworth, said he is willing to work with her in the next assembly and that she would not be stripped of her committee duties. Wentworth didn’t respond to The Root’s request for comment about the call.
Johnson has gotten support from the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus which is calling for Michigan Republicans to apologize to her and to reinstate her to her committee assignments. She added that prominent state Democrats have called to support her, including Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Secretary of state Jocelyn Benson, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Michigan U.S. Senator Gary Peters.
Black women have made strides in national office, with at least 26 Black women winning their Congressional races this year. At the state level, however, they only make up just 317 of the 7,382 lawmakers nationally. For some, the racism they experience in the job is too much to bear. In 2018, Vermont’s only Black lawmaker, Rep. Ruqaiyah “Kiah” Morris, declined to run for reelection after years of racist attacks, and what she said was a lack of serious response from local police. Nationally, prominent Black women such as U.S. Reps. Ilhan Omar and Maxine Waters have long received death threats after challenging outgoing President Trump.
Democrats are in the minority in both chambers of the Michigan legislature, but none of that is deterring Johnson from pursuing her goals of holding Republicans accountable. She also plans on creating a list of companies that supported Donald Trump and demand that they denounce his racist rhetoric and attempts to disenfranchise millions of Black voters.
Home Depot, whose co-founder publicly supported Trump, is at the top of her list.
“We need to have a conversation with them,” she said. “They need to lose a lot of dollars because of their support of a racist and other companies like that. We are going to find every company that has been associated with Donald Trump. And they will be called out, every single one of them. They tried to disenfranchise Black voters, including in my state, including in my city. And these are the businesses that we are giving our money to? Wake up, people.”
Part of her approach is to challenge the moral foundation of her GOP colleagues, starting with reaching out to Trump supporters.
“I’m hoping that they can see clearly that not only have Black people been duped, but they have been duped, too. We have been lied to by powerful white men who want to remain in power. They want to remain in power and control our bodies. They want to remain in control so that they can take our dollars. They want to remain in control so they can continue to put their slip on our neck, and that’s not going to continue to happen.”
Her message to all of the folks sending her hate messages and threatening her life is this: She ain’t backing down. She doesn’t care that her party isn’t in the minority, nor does she see Republicans’ treatment of her as a setback. When asked how she hopes other Black female lawmakers will respond to what she’s experiencing, Johnson said they should get organized and help her fight Trumpism and all forms of white supremacy that tried to undo the will of the people she represents.
“Stand up now,” she said. “We don’t have the luxury of sitting from the sidelines. We have an obligation to a future. When we’re dead, long and gone, I don’t want our families to have to continue to put up what we have been putting up for all these years only because of our silence. So I say to every Black woman, ‘stand up now.’”