Politics & Government

Kansas legislator targeted by anti-black site calls post racist and ridiculous

Rep. Gail Finney, D-Wichita
Rep. Gail Finney, D-Wichita

Kansas Rep. Gail Finney, D-Wichita, is calling an internet comment thread criticizing a statement she made about Westar Energy installing massive electric poles in a primarily black Wichita neighborhood both racist and ridiculous.

The thread appears on Chimpmania.com, an internet forum that publishes anti-black rhetoric. Some have described it as a “hate site.”

The thread in question takes aim at a statement Finney made to a Wichita TV station last week for a news story: “I do not believe this would’ve ever happened in a more affluent area.” She’s referring to Westar last year putting up 105-foot metal and concrete power poles many deem an eyesore in some north Wichita neighborhoods without adequately notifying those who live there.

Many residents were upset because they either didn’t know about the poles until they were installed, or because they thought they would be the same as the wooden ones being replaced. Finney has since introduced House Bill 2317, which would require a siting permit for such a project.

A poster on Chimpania.com who refers to him or herself as “TattooedRedHead” started a thread over the weekend that included a link to the TV station’s story, accompanied by a brief description of the residents’ concerns and Finney’s efforts. The description calls the residents and Finney derogatory names.

There were more than 20 comments on the thread — most also using derogatory language — by early Monday afternoon.

Finney took to Facebook on Sunday morning to criticize the site, saying “Check out this racist article referring to me speaking about the Westar poles issue in our community by Chimpmania.com. Ridiculous.” She also shared her thoughts on Twitter.

Chimpmania.com did not respond to an email from The Eagle asking for comment on the thread and Finney’s response to it.

In an interview with The Eagle on Monday, Finney said she learned about the thread after someone alerted her to it via email. She said she hadn’t heard of the website before the email, but said she decided to post about it on Facebook and Twitter because “I think you need sunshine to expose people like that. ... People need to see the reality of the things that we’re living with.”

“It’s just terrible and degrading that some people have to stoop that low. But it’s easy to speak like that about other people when you’re hiding behind the (computer or phone) screen,” she said.

“I think the behavior is disgusting and sad and sickening,” she added. “But it doesn’t deter me.”

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Amy Renee Leiker has been reporting for The Wichita Eagle since 2010. She covers crime, courts and breaking news and updates the newspaper’s online databases. You can reach her at 316-268-6644. She’s an avid reader and mom of three in her non-work time.