Ohio lawmaker claims discrimination by statehouse security

CANTON, OHIO- A State Representative says she and others are the target of racial discrimination and profiling by Ohio statehouse security at the Riffe Center near the statehouse in Columbus.

Representative Emilia Sykes of Ohio's 34 district in Summit County says in one instance, she was followed by statehouse security to an elevator after presenting her security access badge.

"He said, 'Wait a minute, I did not see your badge,'" said Rep. Sykes. "I said, 'I showed it to you twice, what else do you need me to do?'"

Despite being in her second term and fourth year as a representative, the minority whip says some members of security don't recognize who belongs in the buildings.

"'Well you just don't look like a legislator,'" Rep. Sykes says recalling a second instance with security. "Then he corrected himself and said, 'Well, you look too young to be a legislator.'"

Rep. Sykes, 32 says she is not the youngest legislator currently serving. She describes these incidents as a larger issue with African-American women and adds just last week she had a conversation with security about their policies regarding her May 30th incident.

"I know for a fact that other black women legislatures have also faced challenges with getting into the statehouse as well as the Riffe building," said Rep. Sykes. "We have tried to document as many of these cases and incidents as possible because ultimately we want anyone who comes into statehouse to be and feel welcome. It is the people's house."

The Ohio State Highway Patrol, which heads statehouse security, issued the following statement:

"Security enhancements have recently been implemented at Capitol Square to improve safety for employees and visitors. The current protocol requires all employees and tenants to show their photo identification issued by the State. If identification is not visible or presented, access is not denied but the person must go through security screening. The Patrol is working with our partners to adapt signage that will better explain current procedures. We have also reached out to Representative Sykes and invited her to tour the current security operations with a Patrol Commander."

Rep. Sykes says she plans on taking the tour with the Commander.

"There are certain racial undertones there are gender overtones as well," said the representative. "There aren't many women, there aren't many black women and if you look at the pictures of all the legislatures you're right, I don't look like a legislature but that's the challenge."

The Akron area lawmaker says she has seen lobbyists, staff and others who are not subjected to the same scrutiny by security. Nevertheless, she wants additional clarification about the current policies in order to avoid what she describes as shakedowns trying to get to committee or session.