Wolfeboro Police Commissioner Robert Copeland listens Thursday May 15, 2014 in Wolfeboro, N.H. as town residents ask for his resignation after being overheard calling President Barack Obama the N-word at a restaurant.

Credit: Jim Cole / AP Photo

Robert Copeland Is Not An Anomaly

May 20, 2014

When Wolfeboro, New Hampshire resident Jane O'Toole overheard the town's police commissioner, Robert Copeland, using the N-word in a restaurant, she said it "took the wind out of her sails". 

Copeland did not back off his use of the racial slur when asked about it, replying in an email: "I believe I did use the N-word in reference to the current occupant of the White House. For this I do not apologize—he meets and exceeds my criteria for such."

At a police commission meeting last week he remained unapologetic, but on Monday, Copeland, 82, resigned from his post as police commissioner. 

Jim Braude and Margery Eagan debated the issue with syndicated columnist Reverend Irene Monroe and Reverend Emmett Price, a professor of music at Northeastern University, on Boston Public Radio Monday. Excerpts from their conversation below, full audio above.

Jim Braude: This guy is a sick, 80-year-old who is not the owner of a team with a billion dollars. He's some loser in Wolfeboro. I said to myself- if we talk about this, the implication is that is going to leave is God, racism is at every turn. But I don't think that one lone ranger speaks to the issue of whether racism is rampant or not in this country.

So, am I right? Where do you fall on this, Irene Monroe?

Irene Monroe: I think you are hopelessly optimistic. (laughs) He's not a lone racist. And interestingly enough, after a while when you start tallying it up, after a while you have a whole population- a whole town like Wolfeboro.

JB: Whoa, whoa- there were 100 plus people who showed up to this (police commission) meeting to trash this guy the other night.

IM: Absolutely, but what you have here is a very homogenous community. This man that feels very very comfortable in displaying his racist behavior. (...) Most people when you say 'Did you use the N word?' they have enough gumption to say "Oh, I either wasn't in my right mind," or "Did I say that? Did I? I didn’t mean that…"

Margery Eagan: Well, also, it's the person he's saying it about. He's saying it about the sitting President of the United States, which I thought brought it to a higher level.

Emmett Price: You know, Jane O'Toole, who's the woman who overheard him in the restaurant-  she had just moved there four months ago. She didn’t get the memo. She didn’t know where she was moving into. Clearly she was shocked by it.

The issue is that this guy is a police commissioner, and when she wrote to the local legislation to say- how is it that we have somebody who is an official in our community who has this power? Their response is well, we don't have the power to remove him because he's an elected official. So, here is the issue where you have someone who is an elected official who can make a very nasty remark against a sitting president and can't be removed.

IM: He's not an anomaly. This is a town that has 20 of African descent here. I'm gonna play Devil's advocate (…) Some of it does fall on us as African Americans in that we use the N-word. But I do think that we're the only ethnic group of people that take such a derogatory and hateful word to turn on ourselves as a term of endearment and we get angry. We get angry when we hear white folks use the N-word and the thing that we fail to understand is that the American lexicon is a public enterprise. You can't divvy it up along race, class, or any other particular demographic group. So, part of the problem is that we keep that word in circulation.

JB: In a couple of seconds we're going to be discussing Brown V. Board, which at least legally desegregated American schools. But, because we've decided to elevate Copeland… as a result we're giving less play to what Michelle Obama is saying [about schools and education], which I would say is a million times more important to poor kids and kids of color than what some nut in Wolfeboro is saying…

IM: It's really not an either/or, here.

JB: I think it is an either/or!

IM: And I think you do damage when you don't recognize when someone like this gentleman or Donald Sterling are behaving badly like that. It does hurt to us as the group that it's targeted toward.

JB: The media has given as much play, if not more to the travails of Wolfeboro, NH as they have in the past three or four days to the travails to the public schools of the cities of America.

IM: I so disagree, because you make this assumption, Jim, that people of African ascent don't experience people like a Donald Sterling and like this gentleman that's here in Wolfeboro, NH. If anything, it makes him be held accountable for his hate speech, because truth be told, we hear it all the time.

EP: I kinda agree with you, Jim.

JB: About time!

EP: Here's the challenge- One is the reflection of the other, right? So, when you have economic decay in cities, when you have jobs moving to different places they create homogenous and monolithic areas. You know, when you look at public schools in the country, the best public schools are in the most wealthy communities, which are not accessible to individuals ho don’t have the wealth and the means to live there. So, when you look at this you end up creating segmented and if not segregated communities based on wealth, based on privilege based on economic opportunities which tend to reflect on racial or ethnic bias.

Listen to the full discussion above.

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