Black Experience

Black State Rep. Told She Doesn’t ‘Look Like a Legislator’

Ohio state Rep. Emilia Sykes (D-Akron) said on Twitter that she ran into issues when trying to enter the Riffe Center, a building connected to the statehouse where many lawmakers’ officers are located, to attend a meeting.

According to Sykes, her identification badge was prominently displayed on her bag, but security still stopped her and asked ¬to see her ID. Sykes told ABC News that she continued walking, telling the security guard that he already saw her badge. But the guard followed Sykes to the elevator. “What else do you want from me? I showed it to you twice,” Sykes told him. He then walked away. She wrote about the incident on Twitter, adding that this was not her first such experience.

According to ABC News, last year Sykes was walking to the statehouse with a colleague — a 65-year-old white man — when she was stopped and told her bag had to be searched. Her companion was not stopped.

Sykes questioned this because a recent policy dictated that employees with badges were not subjected to security searches. She also said she was wearing her district’s lapel pin at the time.

The man Sykes was with vouched for her, but security simply didn’t care. Eventually the guard let her through — but not before telling Sykes she didn’t “look like a legislator,” an assertion that surprised Sykes.

Her reaction prompted the guard to add that she appeared “too young” — an explanation Sykes does not believe.

Security for the Riffe Center is run by the Ohio State Highway Patrol. Sykes did not identify the race(s) of the security guards who stopped her. However, leadership for the patrol is almost entirely made up of white men. A rep for the patrol apologized to Sykes and said that the guard was new to his position.

Sykes is more than a state representative. She serves as the minority whip, an elected minority leadership position. And her family has been representing Ohio for decades. Sykes is the daughter of Vernon and Barbara Sykes. Vernon Sykes was appointed to the House of Representatives in 1983. In 2001 he was succeeded by his wife, Barbara, when he reached his term limit; in 2006, Vernon returned to the position. In 2014 Vernon once again faced term limits, and his daughter, Emilia Sykes, took the helm.

It turns out even veterans of the patrol have issues with racism.

In 2008 a photo surfaced of Craig Franklin, who had been a trooper with the patrol for more than a decade, dressed as a member of the Ku Klux Klan. A fellow trooper, Eric Wlodarsky, took the photo. Both men were on duty at the time.

The following year Wlodarsky faced allegations that he made racist comments to his coworkers.

“[Former trooper Matt] Johnson, who is white, accuses trooper Eric Wlodarsky of making racist comments about him because his ex-wife was married to a black man and because he has biracial relatives,” the Dispatch reported at the time. “Johnson, who is seeking damages of more than $25,000, alleges his former supervisor ignored his complaints about the comments and then set out to fire him.”

“The lawsuit said the racist comments began in 2006 and occurred over several months,” the Dispatch wrote. “Johnson said that his boss, Lt. Michael Vinson, once encouraged Wlodarsky to repeat a racist joke so that several others at work could hear it.”

Regarding the KKK incident, Wlodarsky and Franklin were both initially suspended but later fired — at the governor’s recommendation.

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