MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – Simmering tensions over an email referencing monkeys that was sent by a white Alabama legislator erupted into a shouting match Thursday night in the state House of Representatives.
“I’m not a monkey. My mother wasn’t a monkey, and neither was my father. You are a damn monkey,” Rep. John Rogers, a black lawmaker from Birmingham, shouted at the House member who sent the email.
Republican Rep. Lynn Greer, of Rogersville, forwarded a constituent email Wednesday to dozens of legislators and staff that described an experiment in which caged monkeys will eventually stop reaching for a dangling banana as they slowly accept the status quo because their predecessors were punished.
The email was sent as black lawmakers used procedural tactics in the House and Senate to oppose proposed new legislative districts they said minimized black voters’ influence.
Greer said the email was meant to be a joke about the need to replace incumbents in Congress. He issued a statement apologizing for the email and met with the black lawmakers to apologize in person. He said he didn’t see the email as racist.
“Bottom of my heart, I didn’t mean anything bad,” Greer told The Associated Press.
Rogers said Greer had offered only excuses. Although the confrontation did not become physical, Rogers said he was angry enough to “punch off his nose.”
“You meant what you said,” Rogers said.
The House speaker asked for a lengthy recess to try to defuse the tensions.
The email titled “POLITICS Psychology” describes how monkeys are sprayed with water for reaching for a banana. Some black lawmakers on Wednesday night said the imagery drew comparisons to how civil rights protesters in Birmingham were sprayed with fire hoses.
“My father was one of five boys, and those five boys were some of the ones who got sprayed in Birmingham. Your email brought back a lot of emotions for the people who fought for the rights of all people,” Rep. Rolanda Hollis, D-Birmingham, told Greer during debate on an unrelated bill.