LOCKPORT – The Lockport Police Department learned a lesson Wednesday about racial sensitivity.
Chief Lawrence M. Eggert said the department will change its software package as soon as today to eliminate the word “Negro” as a choice in descriptions of suspects’ complexions.
The department used its Facebook page to gauge online opinion on the use of the word and found out that, depending on who was responding, it is considered either offensive or outdated.
The post was written by Mark Sanders, an African-American civilian who works for the department as a community policing aide.
Sanders also is the pastor of an African-American church in Lockport, Refuge Temple.
The flap started when Lockport police put out a media alert last week seeking a suspect in a shooting incident on Gooding Street.
Eggert said the options in a drop-down list for descriptions of suspects included “Negro light” and “Negro dark.”
The department received some negative feedback about that.
“It wasn’t malicious. It wasn’t racially motivated. The software’s 20 years old,” Eggert said. “There are some people who are offended by it, so we won’t use it.”
Sanders was intrigued by the response to the use of the word “Negro.”
In an interview Wednesday, he said, “At one time it was a word of pride among black people: the United Negro College Fund, the Negro Baseball Leagues. Going from the N-word to ‘colored,’ ‘Negro’ was a step up.”
After posting about it on his personal Facebook page, Sanders talked the matter over with Eggert, and late Wednesday afternoon, they decided to post the matter on the department’s official Facebook page.
“Is the word ‘negro’ an offensive word or just an outdated word?” Sanders’ post asked.
There was no shortage of responses.
“That’s an offensive question that should not be asked!” wrote Belinda Pichey, a white woman.
Among the other printable responses was this from LeSean Shaw: “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.”
Sanders, 44, told The Buffalo News, “I don’t consider the word a racial slur. It just showed your age.” He added, “There are still some older black people who use the word.”
Chenia Hardy, a black woman, wrote on Facebook: “As you can see, not many black people are responding because it was an ignorant question to ask. And most of the white people that are responding … are being ignorant, they have no clue at all. Ignorance and stupidity get you nowhere but beat up!”
“As you can see, black people are taking offense at the word,” Alp Ozcelik posted. “Just the fact that you had to ask this question is mind-numbing to me but let’s let that slide. So if you don’t want to be rude and insensitive, you definitely should not be using that word. But hey, feel free to keep using it, as long as you are okay with being called ignorant.”
Abed Ayoub wrote, “This question shouldn’t be asked in this manner. This is an example of over-using your social media platforms.”
“Come on, do you really need to ask this question it is 2014,” wrote Kim Rodriguez.
Matt LaSpada wrote, “It’s definitely outdated. Most black people I know are at least a little offended when it’s used to describe them.”
“So who will have to fall on the sword for this latest ‘outrage’?” asked Jane Mastan. “The word police are out in force.”
“White people not finding that word offensive is like straight people not finding the word ‘queer’ offensive,” offered Dave Behrens.
“If you aren’t part of the offended group, you’re a lot less likely to be sensitive to the issue.”
Lockport has never had a black police officer, despite what Eggert said were extensive recruiting efforts in churches and in advertisements in publications with large black audiences.
In 2003, the only black man on the civil service list was disqualified when he failed the physical agility test by being unable to do the minimum 35 sit-ups.
In 2004, another black man tied for second on the civil service exam but wasn’t hired by the city Police Board.
On the subject of racial nomenclature, “You learn every day,” Eggert said,
As for future descriptions of suspects, he said, “We’ll probably make it light, medium and dark complexion for any race.”