When is the n-word not so bad?

Police discipline varies

Springfield police officer Evan Delude didn't react well last fall when an 18-year-old youth called him "nigga."

"You going to sit around here and call me a nigger and all of that shit," Delude shouts as he pulls out cuffs. He erupts again when the youth asks why Delude had grabbed his pants. "You're going to call me a faggot now, just like you call me all the other names?" Delude says.

Police were concerned that people had run from them – I'm told the cops may have interrupted an illegal game of chance – and two got caught outside an east side apartment complex. Delude arrested the youth for resisting. Footage suggests they'd crossed paths before.

Why, asks a woman who sounds like the youth's mother, are you arresting him?

"They're shooting themselves, they're shooting at people, they're gambling, they're doing all this crap," Delude replies. "We're done. If they cross the street wrong, they're getting a ticket; we have an arrestable offense, they go to jail."

Then came another outburst. "When I got out with you, all you wanted to do was call me nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger," Delude shouts at the youth. A few minutes later, he says, "I get here and I'm called a nigger – that's a problem."

Delude got a written reprimand. In June, Officer James Foxx was fired after sending a text to an African American officer that reportedly contained the phrase, "You got me out here feeling like the 800 house nigga." The city refuses to release internal affairs files in the case, saying that Foxx's removal from the city payroll doesn't constitute final discipline until a union appeal runs its course.

Two weeks after Delude's meltdown, an officer texted Andrew Dodd, head of internal affairs, about something she'd found in the department armory while leaving work.

"On my Friday, I was putting my squad car key away and saw the head of a black Barbie doll with her hair cut off on the top of the key board," the officer wrote, according to a memo that Dodd prepared. "I threw it away because I felt kind of embarrassed by it. Idk who put it there or why but I felt like I should say something." When I asked for the internal affairs file, the city said there wasn't one: The text didn't constitute a formal complaint, and so no investigation, aside from Dodd checking a trash can, was done. The city installed cameras and told officers about them.

Mayor Jim Langfelder and police brass have briefed council members on these incidents and four others that remain mysterious, given that meetings were private. At least two council members were reluctant: Ward 2 Ald. Shawn Gregory and Ward 3 Ald. Doris Turner told me last month that they chose not to be briefed. Still, council members have alluded to the cases several times in recent meetings.

Last week, Turner told colleagues that the seven cases show that racism is an issue within the department. Bad actors, she said, aren't suffering sufficient consequences. Turner was arguing against a resolution reaffirming a statement of principles signed by local police and the NAACP – why reaffirm something, she asked, that didn't fix things? Ward 6 Ald. Kristin DiCenso agreed. "In the last year, we've had at least seven incidents of racial activities, derogatory racial incidents, within the Springfield Police Department," she said. "If we're not actually doing anything, it doesn't mean anything."

Actually, Mayor Jim Langfelder tells me, the seven incidents have taken place since 2017. The department isn't denying an issue, and changes to policies and procedures are en route, the mayor and council members say.

Why, I asked Langfelder, did Delude get a reprimand for using the same slur that got Foxx fired? "There's more to it than just using the n-word," answered the mayor, who had overlooked the homophobic slur, which wasn't mentioned in Delude's reprimand. Did it make a difference that Delude had repeated back what someone had called him? "That was taken into consideration," Langfelder says.

Teresa Haley, president of the state and Springfield chapters of the NAACP, says there should be zero tolerance.

"There is no difference – he should be fired as well," Haley tells me. "It's totally unacceptable."

Haley also faults the department for not conducting an internal affairs investigation into the doll incident. Black officers, she says, are reluctant to speak up. "It's the fear of retaliation, it's the fear of showing up on the scene and not having other officers have your back," Haley says. "I believe that if an officer brings that to you and tells you that that happened to him or her, they're being put in a situation where they're fearing for their life."

Haley said that she's discussed the Delude reprimand with police chief Kenny Winslow. "He told us his hands are tied on this one: We can only do so much, we've got the mayor, we've got the unions," Haley says.

Winslow isn't popular in the ranks, but Langfelder says he likes him, and he has the backing of Haley and council members. "Kenny's a good guy," Haley says. "He's done a lot." She allows that he has a job on his hands.

"That white privilege is over with," she says. "Some of them think, because they're white with a gun and a badge, they can get away with anything."

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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