Video: Cop's racial slur causes uproar

updated 7/30/2009 12:35:50 PM ET 2009-07-30T16:35:50

A suspended Boston police officer apologized for using a racial slur to describe prominent black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. in an e-mail, saying he made a poor choice of words, didn't mean to offend anyone and isn't racist.

The police commissioner put 36-year-old Justin Barrett on administrative leave pending a termination hearing after learning of the slur. Barrett is a member of the National Guard and has been suspended from his military duties pending an investigation.

Barrett, 36, did not immediately return calls for comment.

Barrett's union, the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association, said they condemn and "strongly denounce these statements as being offensive and hurtful."

But the union added that investigators should consider all the facts and not rush to a conclusion.

Police said Barrett does not have previous violations with the department.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino told WCVB-TV the city needs "to rid the department of that cancer."

"An individual preaching hate has no place in our society," Menino told the local television station.

In an interview with WCVB-TV, Barrett said he was just venting. He said he always treats people with dignity and respect.

The mayor told WCVB-TV that Barrett was trained in racial profiling prevention and had shown no signs of racial discrimination in the past.

National debate
Gates was arrested on a charge of disorderly conduct at his home near Harvard University by a white police officer who was responding to a report of a possible burglary.

The charge was dropped but the case sparked a national debate over racial profiling, which intensified when President Barack Obama said Cambridge police "acted stupidly."

Gates has no comment on the suspension of the police officer who had made disparaging remarks about him, his attorney said late Wednesday.

"He is happy to speak, he is eager to speak, but he realizes that right now it is much better to be a listener than a speaker," said the attorney, Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree. "He's learned a lot about what happened and he will continue to listen."

Still, the racial slur allegedly used by the Boston police officer to describe Gates "just tells you that there are some individuals who act completely out of character and it is not the sort of statement or a representation by police officers who I know — and I know many — or any police department that I work with, and I work with a lot," Ogletree said.

Aide resigns over 'O-dumb-a' comment
Meanwhile, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, a Democrat, accepted the resignation of Lee Landor, his deputy press secretary, after she called Gates a racist and referred to President Barack Obama as "O-dumb-a."

Landor's comments on the social networking site Facebook were inappropriate, Stringer said in a statement.

Landor defended her entries, but added: "It is understandable that a black man encountering police will be suspicious of racial profiling, based on the long history of racism in this country."

More on: Henry Louis Gates

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