Amnon Jakony (Jay Arts Holdings)
After Delvin White — a black officer with the Tampa Police Department — was fired earlier this month for using the N-word, students at the campus he patrolled were taken aback.
“I was confused and amazed,” J’Lyn Green, a 16-year-old Middleton High School sophomore, told the Tampa Bay Times, adding that White is “good people.”
“He shouldn’t have used it,” Green added to the paper, “but the punishment shouldn’t have gone that far.”
What’s the background?
White — an eight-year veteran of the department who served as a school resource officer — used the N-word while on the phone and during a Nov. 30 arrest, the Times reported in a previous story, citing a disposition letter police released.
He was hit with “violations of policy that prohibit discriminatory conduct,” the paper said, citing a news release.
The disposition letter said when White was confronted about his actions, he told his superior he didn’t use the N-word in a derogatory fashion but rather as it’s “commonly used in today’s society as a means of shared culture and experiences among the African American community,” the Times reported.
But Chief Brian Dugan said that “derogatory statements made by police officers jeopardize the trust that our department works to establish with our community. Tampa Police officers are held to a higher standard, and incidents like this negatively impact the entire law enforcement profession,” the paper added.
The Times said that White had built a rapport with students and staff at the school during his three years serving there. And while his supporters agree he should have been disciplined, they told paper that firing an “effective, beloved black officer at a school where nearly half the students are black” is “unfair and counterproductive.”
The big question, according to the Times: Should there be different penalties depending on the race of the employee using the N-word and the context in which they use it?
The paper said White’s supporters are calling for the chief to reinstate him, and White is appealing his termination to the city’s Civil Service Board with support from the Tampa Police Benevolent Association. In addition, an online petition created by a Middleton student has attracted nearly 1,300 signatures, the Times noted.
More from the paper:
Yvette Lewis, president of the Hillsborough branch of the NAACP, is among those who say that use of the word should be looked at “holistically” and that White’s offense is not as serious as a white person using the slur against a Black person.
Lewis, who said she has received “a ton of calls” in support of White, sees another factor behind the Black community’s criticism of Dugan’s decision.
“Black folks are looking at this like, white police officers have done us wrong, shot us dead in the street, they have mistreated us and still have their job, so why would you want to fire this man for saying a word?” Lewis said. “That’s what I’m hearing.”
Lavetta Sexil, J’Lyn Green’s mother, told the Times that White cares a lot about the students.
“He treats them like they’re his very own kids,” she noted to the paper. “When J’Lyn went to high school, we had an issue where we thought he was skipping. Officer White kept a close eye on him and if he wasn’t in class, he would let me know. We need officers like Officer White in our community.”
Middleton student Anjali Bryant created a petition page at change.org titled, “Get Officer White his job back” — which reflects the opinion earlier noted by J’Lyn Green: White “did make a mistake, but the punishment was too harsh,” the Times reported.
The page adds that “we feel that nothing Officer White said jeopardized the trust he has established in our community. The students at Middleton High School love Officer White and we know he feels the same based on his actions,” the paper noted.
What else did the police chief have to say?
A complaint review board consisting of five sworn officers unanimously ruled that White violated a department policy on “professional responsibility and responsibility of enforcement” — but only two said he violated a city policy forbidding “discriminatory conduct” presumably in regard to the use of the N-word, the Times said.
The board sent a summary to Chief Dugan that said “no one was insulted, no damage was done to anyone’s reputation, and the victim did not feel offended or disrespected,” according to the paper.
But Dugan told the Times he still believed he had to fire White.
“People need to understand I can’t fire a white officer and not fire a Black officer for saying that,” he noted to the paper. “If you’re going to go for restorative punishment for him, you have to do it for everyone in the future, no matter what color they are. The policy is pretty clear that unless there are mitigating circumstances, you’re going to get terminated if you talk like that.”
“My stance has to be color blind,” Dugan added to the Times.
Black college professor weighs in
Neal Lester, an English professor at Arizona State University who is black, told the paper some black people say their N-word use culturally re-appropriates the slur and lessens its power — but he doesn’t buy that.
Lester — who has designed and taught a course that traces the N-word’s history from its origins to its use in pop culture — added to the Times that black people’s use of the slur can’t be separated from how white people used it for centuries to discriminate and oppress.
“You can’t take the power out of that when it’s still connected to racism, and if you internalize the racism, then white people don’t have to use it because you use it among people who look like you,” the professor told the paper, adding that he viewed White’s body camera videos. “If [White] is using that with this young man he’s upset with, where is the power taken out of that? And if he’s talking disparagingly about a group of Black people, where has the power been taken out of that?”
Many Middleton students and some staff members wore white to school Monday to support White, who also was there:
“We’re not condoning what I did, but we don’t think I should have gotten terminated,” White added to the Times. “I’m amazed by the support I’ve received and really want my job back so I can continue my work in the community.”
Tampa police union backs fired Black officer after body-camera video shows him saying N-word