A white Montgomery County, Maryland police officer was caught on video saying the N-word. Her excuse? She was “repeating” the Black suspects’ words.
Police were called to a Silver Spring, Maryland McDonald’s on May 9 for a complaint of loitering. The men were allegedly waiting for a friend to pick them up and drive them to their landscaping job. The McDonald’s had been having issues with loitering and drugs and asked the men to leave before calling the cops. The men refused, saying they were being racially profiled. One of the men captured the confrontation on his smartphone.
The police department released the entire bodycam video of the incident on July 12, after the Montgomery County Council had demanded it.
The video the Black suspect recorded on Instagram live begins with him commenting on the paperwork the officers are filling out. He uses the N-word.
In response, the white officer says, “You want to get out of here fast, right? So, if we have more people, y’all n****s been trying to do something.”
Another one of the men says, “I bet if she didn’t have that badge on, she wouldn’t be calling us no n****s.”
The officer replies, “I still would say it because what I’m doing is repeating your words.”
The “if-Black-people-can-say-it-why-can’t-I?” argument is a common defense from non-Black people who ignore the word’s historical implications and choose not to understand the politics of communities reclaiming words used against them.
As IndyStar writer Suzanne Hackney wrote in an opinion piece, “It is not for you. It will never again be for you — your ancestors cashed in all of your chips.”
Historically, when a Black person heard the slur coming out of white people’s mouths, they were preparing to be harassed, beaten, raped or killed.
Linguistic appropriation — the reclaiming of oppressive terms by groups the terms were used against — can be empowering, a 2013 study concluded. Many oppressed groups (think women affectionately saying “b*tch” or LGBTQ people turning the word “queer” into an accepted term) find power and identity in taking a slur and reassigning a positive meaning to it. Those not in those groups do not have the right to determine a slur’s meaning.
Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones issued an apology for the officer’s conduct, saying the language she used was “decidedly unprofessional.” Nine officers remain under investigation and may face disciplinary action, he said. The officer who used the slur has been assigned to desk duty while the others remain on the street.
“The statements observed on the social media video clip are contrary to our extensive training curriculum that include implicit bias training and other training programs to ensure fair, unbiased, and non-discriminatory policing in our community,” the department’s statement said.
The four men in the video ended up being arrested, and two received citations for marijuana possession.