Jeff Preval, WGRZ 5:49 p.m. EDT July 31, 2014
LOCKPORT, NY – Last week, 2 On Your Side reported on the spike of shootings in the City of Lockport this year. While we were in Lockport, police gave us a mug shot of a man suspected of some of the shootings. And, on the mug shot appeared a phrase that can be offensive to many people.
The mug shot was of 19-year-old Shamir Allen. He’s a suspect in several shootings in the city. We looked further on the mug shot and found next to line labeled “complexion,” that Allen is listed as a “negro.” Next to negro it reads “DA”
According to Lockport Police, this means dark.
So, Shamir Allen, a 19-year-old suspect is listed as a “dark negro,” in the Lockport Police database.
We showed the mug shot to three black leaders in the City of Buffalo — Eva M. Doyle, a columnist and author, who’s written thousands of articles on African and African-American culture; Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant; and Frank Mesiah, the president of the NAACP Buffalo Branch.
All three were outraged by what they saw.
“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 — there’s making a difference between a dark-skinned and a light-skinned 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.
“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.
You may hear or see the word “Negro” used in a history lesson or when entities like the United Negro College Fund or the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum are talked about. Negro appeared on U.S. Census forms and surveys, but was removed last year.
“That word was developed during slavery to subjugate, discriminate, to make people feel bad about themselves,” Grant said.
Wednesday, we questioned Lockport Police about their usage of the word negro.
REPORTER: Aren’t your officers aware that that type of terminology can be offensive to blacks?
EGGERT: I didn’t know it until I talked to you just now, I don’t ever use that term but I didn’t think it was an offensive term regardless.
According to Lockport Police, officers in the department use a specific type of computer software to list the complexion of suspects. The department says its been using the system since 1994 and that it’s rarely updated. When officers go to the complexion tab, there are about 12 options to choose from, and among them descriptions such as light, medium and dark are listed, in addition to “light negro” and “dark negro.”
Chief Larry Eggert says some — not all officers — use the terms light and dark negro. Police say it’s not a policy to label blacks as negroes in their 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, it was in the drop down menu that a well-meaning officer picked because he thought that’s what the person looked like,” said Eggert.
Chief Eggert says negro will be removed from the department’s database Wednesday, if not later this week. Lockport Police say they will do diversity training in the next couple of weeks to explain to officers why the word negro is not acceptable to use.
In the future, along with their race, all suspects will be listed with a light, medium or dark complexion.