By Julissa Catalan
The police department of Lockport, N.Y., near Buffalo, classified a 19-year old Black suspect as a “dark negro” in a police report.
The suspect, Shamir Allen, was arrested on suspicion of multiple shootings in the area.
According to Lockport Police Chief Larry Eggert, the department uses computer software that has rarely been updated since 1994—although at that time the term “Negro” was not acceptable either.
Under the category “Complexion,” a dropdown menu gives 12 options, including light, medium and dark, as well as “light Negro” and “dark Negro. ”
Allen is listed as “Negro, DA”; the DA stands for dark.
Eggert said he was unaware that “Negro” is an offensive term until it was brought to his attention by a WGRZ-TV reporter who interviewed him.
WGRZ went on to show the police report to three Black leaders in New York state: Eva M. Doyle, a columnist and author who’s written thousands of articles on Black culture; Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant; and Frank Mesiah, the President of the NAACP’s Buffalo Branch.
All three had the same reaction—shock.
“I think it’s ignorant, I think it’s a lack of education, I think it’s a lack of sensitivity,” said Doyle. “I think what really bothered me more was using the term dark, because to me that is saying that there’s a discrimination there—they’re making a difference between a dark-skinned and a light-skinned, and that is something that we have struggled with for a long, long time in this country.”
“This right here is insulting, it is disrespecting, it is inaccurate and it’s a word that should have gone away at least since the 1960s. In the 1960s, it became very inappropriate to call someone a Negro,” Grant said. “That word was developed during slavery to subjugate, discriminate, to make people feel bad about themselves.”
“Apparently, this shows that there’s certain aspects of Western New York, where it appears that racism is alive and well, especially within a police department,” Mesiah said.
The revelation prompted the Lockport Police Department to involve their Community Liaison, Mark Sanders, who posted the question “Is the word ‘Negro’ an offensive word or just an outdated word” on its Facebook page.
The post—which has since been deleted—received responses from all over New York state, letting the department know that in fact the term is very insensitive and offensive.
One post read, “That’s an offensive question that should not be asked!”
“If you don’t want to cause controversy, remove it. As an African-American male, and as a police officer at that, you should know the connotations that are associated with that word,” said another Facebook user.
Sanders replied, “I am an African-American man and I serve in a community of people from diverse backgrounds. One of my responsibilities is to connect with the community and support the bridge between the community and the police department. … This is not to raise controversy but to raise awareness of being sensitive to all that the LPD are responsible to protect and serve.”
Eggert did tell WGRZ that the word “Negro” would be removed from the department’s database.
“If it bothers people that much, we’re going to take it out. It’s not used as an inflammatory word, as a racially divisive term, it isn’t any of that,” he said. “It was in the dropdown menu that a well-meaning officer picked because he thought that’s what the person looked like.”
The Lockport Police Department—which has never had a Black officer on its force—is also said to be receiving diversity training in the next few weeks.