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Wolfeboro police commissioner under scrutiny for racist comments about Obama

A racist remark aimed at President Obama and reportedly made by an elected police official in Wolfeboro has residents calling for the official to step down.

The incident, allegedly involving police Commissioner Robert Copeland, happened in a local restaurant in early March, Jane O’Toole of Wolfeboro said. But only in recent days has it become an issue that’s drawing wider interest.

O’Toole said she plans to attend the Wolfeboro Police Commission meeting tonight and to call for Copeland to resign. She and others are also prepared to request a recall if he refuses to step down. Sixteen other people have committed – through a Facebook page organized around the meeting – to attend.

Copeland and another commissioner, Ron Goodgame, did not return calls seeking comment last night. But commission Chairman Joseph Balboni said he has no plans to ask Copeland to resign.

“I think it’s crazy. Bob is a very nice person, and he’s been very generous to the town of Wolfeboro,” Balboni said.

“He’s worked with a lot of blacks in his life. . . . He said some harsh words about Mr. Obama, and here we are. This woman, she’s blowing it all out of proportion.”

Balboni said he does plan to allow attendees at the meeting to speak their minds, unless the meeting becomes repetitive.

O’Toole said she had no intention of becoming involved in local politics when she moved to Wolfeboro in November.

“I vote, I’ve always voted, but I have no desire to run for any kind of office or get involved in politics,” O’Toole said yesterday. “I just happened to be at a restaurant at the wrong time.”

She said the incident happened at Nolan’s Brick Oven Bistro. It was March 6 – O’Toole said she remembers because it was the same day she had an appointment at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, marking eight years as cancer-free.

While she was finishing up a celebratory dinner, a man sitting nearby at the bar said loudly that he hates watching television, because every time he turns it on, he sees “that f------ n-----.”

As she left the room, she asked him whether he was “throwing the n-word around,” O’Toole said. “He sort of swung around and puffed up his chest and said, ‘Yeah,’ and . . . I said, ‘Not good, not good at all.’ ”

She didn’t plan to do anything else about it. She didn’t know who he was until the next day when she went back to the restaurant. That’s when the staff told her his name and position in town. She later watched videos of the police commission’s meeting to see whether he was indeed the same man.

She said she didn’t know what to do, and so she didn’t do anything – for a while. When town elections rolled around the next week, she didn’t vote for him, though he ran unopposed and won a second term.

“At that point, it really started to bother me that this was an elected official, making these loud racist statements. But I talked to a few people in town and they said, ‘Just leave it, what good is it going to do?’ But talking to more people I knew, I got the impression this wasn’t the type of town that was going to be like that. It was going to be more supportive of me. No one sounded surprised,” O’Toole said.

So she wrote a letter of complaint to the town manager. He wrote back and said the town doesn’t oversee the commission, and said she would have to take her complaint there.

She wrote to Balboni and Goodgame. And when Copeland responded instead, she took the whole thing to the local weekly paper.

The Granite State News published a version of her letter to the town, and a response reportedly written by Copeland.

“While I believe the problems associated with minorities in this country are momentous, I am not phobic. My use of derogatory slang in reference to those among them undeserving of respect is no secret. It is the exercise of my 1st Amendment rights,” it read. “I believe I did use the ‘N’ word in reference to the current occupant of the Whitehouse (sic). For this I do not apologize – he meets and exceeds my criteria for such.”

While the board of selectmen can’t take action against a member of the police commission, Chairwoman Linda Murray said she will be at the meeting tonight.

“The laws give certain authority to the police commission, and I don’t want to step over those bounds. But I think the letter the board wrote says they don’t condone, they don’t want to hear that kind of language in any public official,” Murray said last night. “I feel Mrs. O’Toole did what was appropriate. She informed the public. There are people in the public who are coming out dismayed by the kind of language and disrespect for the president of the United States, and they are going to stand up.”

One of them is Brian Murphy, a former Concord police officer and retired head of security for St. Paul’s School.

He first heard about Copeland’s remarks on Facebook, and he has been trying to create momentum behind calls for the commissioner to resign.

“I don’t believe he has any place in town positions. I don’t think he represents the town, and he certainly doesn’t represent the town well. I hope he resigns, but I don’t have high hopes considering what he’s done so far, so I would like to pursue a recall if he doesn’t,” Murphy said.

Copeland’s comments about minorities are “out of order,” Murphy said. “Who knows what his thinking is on minorities in general? I don’t know if he dislikes Italians? Or Irishmen? Or if he just feels this way about blacks? It doesn’t seem that he’s a fair-minded person, but he’s on a commission making judgments, and I would think his thinking like this could influence those judgments.”

The duties of a police commission under New Hampshire law include hiring, firing and disciplining personnel, and setting their salaries.

O’Toole said she still has no plans to get more involved in town politics and is nervous about tonight’s meeting. She is bolstered, she said, by a positive response from people she doesn’t know.

“I do believe maybe some good will come out of it,” she said. “Maybe it will encourage people to speak up, to not just giggle if someone uses these terms, not shy away, but say it’s unacceptable. It’s not easy, but it’s important.”

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or spalermo@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)

Only part left out of this melodrama is the sight of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson jet-skiing into Wolfeboro from Lake Winnipesaukee. Maybe SNL will cover that segment, tonight.

Does anyone know what Mr. Copeland's political party affiliation is? Did he run for office as a Democrat, Republican or independent. Its odd none of the many media stories about this mentions his party affiliation, as stories about elected officials normally do.

Does anyone know what Mr. Copeland's political party affiliation is? Did he run for office as a Democrat, Republican or independent. Its odd none of the many media stories about this mentions his party affiliation, as stories about elected officials normally do.

Freedom of SPEECH whether you like it or NOT. GET OVER YOUSELVES. We live supposedly in a free country. I hate the so called president and yes I said it and I am allowed too. Grow up and get your facts straight!!!!'

You are indeed free to post your opinion. And others are just as free to call you on your bigotry. Same constitutional rights. GROWN UP AND GOT MY FACTS STRAIGHT!

So if I'm reading this correctly, he feels use of that word is justified for minorities that aren't leading a respectable life, and somehow President of the United States falls into that category. He should just come out and admit that he's racist, instead of trying to rationalize the obvious.

Maybe some people think this, maybe the chief of police used the "N" word and that is not tasteful nor professional nor called for. However, people have their right to opinions and they have the right to free speech. If I was in a restaurant and said: "I don't like Swedes", no one would have an issue. If I said: "Bush is a white racist who is dumber than a stump and inbred as well", no one would have an issue. And trust me comments similar to that one have been posted here before by posters who rant about racism regularly. Who gets to decide what a person says? The answer is the person who says it. Now, this political correctness has gone so far, for instance, that if you are against same sex marriage less than 10 years after the first state passed it, you are a "homophobe". The problem is that one political side is dictating how we are allowed to think and speak through political correctness. Now the chief was over the top and should not use that language. My guess is, however, that if he said: "that loser of a president", the woman reporting this would have had an issue with that as well. This is political, nothing more, nothing less. But who really gets to decide what a citizen of this country can "say". People who want to control the debate are too loose with the "ism", "obe", "ist" stereotyping of anyone who does not agree with their world view. I think that the chief showed hatred, but, branding people who think differently than you calling them racist, xenophobes, homophobes, misogynists, etc is also hateful. Let's work on that progressives.

"I don't like Swedes" is not comparable to a public servant referring to the leader of the free world with a racial slur that we, as a country, have paid a monumental price to eliminate from our society. It can be chalked up to "ignorance" coming from an uneducated, underprivileged citizen, but coming from an officer of the law who can ruin a person's career or imprison a citizen based on his political views and ideology, it is inexcusable. He can make his remarks all he wants to from a civilian activist point of view, but as a tax-paid servant of the people, he should be removed immediately!

OK "character", so you don't think Itsa's "Swedes" comment rises to the level of what Copeland said, fine. But what about his OTHER example? You know, the one about Bush being a white racist? You didn't mention whether or not that is a valid comparison.

The 3 American civil rights workers, James Chaney, Goodman and Schwener murdered. Viola Liuzzi shotgunned, MLK, Medgar Evans, the Selma marchers beat, the white and black Freedom Riders beaten with bats, the civil rights workers white and black branded by J Edgar Hoover as Communists. Slavery, prejudice and decades of segregation didn't have anything to do with racism in America? You have absolutely no understanding of American history and racism.

"Bush is a white racist who is dumber than a stump and inbred as well" It's a terrible comparison, it's not a racist statement.

True perhaps but not racist.

It is not a valid comparison. First, it is hypothetical and not accurate. Second, reverse racism is a nonexistent problem manufactured by racists. Racism is not just calling someone a name. It is denying them access to education and jobs, and enforcing social rules that deny them the same rights you have solely because of their skin color. If you don't understand it, then you need to get out more and see the world.

Character, you wrote: "n officer of the law who can ruin a person's career or imprison a citizen based on his political views and ideology". Think about that for a minute, although he was ignorant for saying what he did, his career is now being "ruined" by folks based on his political views and ideology. It is like the recent executive who was promoted and then forced to resign because he donated to an organization which was against same sex marriage. How is that "fair" and why should pressure come from others who don't agree with you politically. Paid servant of the people? By your definition, most of the Senators, Obama and the House would be automatically removed, immediately! based on their actions.

I doubt very much knowing the politics of Wolfeboro calling the President a loser would not have caused much of a stir. This was a racial slur and he doubled down on it. "Nobama " and "Obummer" and you have so little respect for the President that you have no perspective left to judge his disgusting his remark was.

This is not political. It's about hate speech, pure and simple. I doubt that O'Toole or anyone else would have had an issue with Copeland had he simply described Obama as "a loser", and made clear he disagreed with his policies. But he crossed the line by saying what he did. Using the "n" word goes far beyond free speech. It's what we heard in the 1950's from White Citizens' Councils in the South and in northern cities in the 1960's struggling with busing to end school segregation. 40 years later, public schools in many parts of the nation are re-segregating, especially in the South. Racism has not gone away in this country. Wolfboro demonstrates that we are far from a "post-racial" country that some had claimed or hoped would happen. I think Obama's election has exposed and given new life to racist thinking and action--a substantial portion of the Tea Party signed on to the movement in response to his election and the far-fetched and hysterical claims of the right. But we can also take heart in the actions of O'Toole and those like her in Wolfboro, who rightly called out Copeland, who himself must feel bewildered and shocked that he has so few defenders. In the South, 50 years ago, those who had the courage to call out racists would have risked being ostracized or even killed. That Copeland is being held accountable for his statements is a sign of progress.

It is political. The woman who overheard this supports Obama. In fact, if you want to know the truth, he can say what he said, as ignorant as it is and she should maybe not have been listening anyway. Your Tea Party assessment is incorrect. If you can't see that it is Obama's arrogance, not his skin color is the reason for his low approval ratings and people being against his policies, then you are naive and out of touch. So now, everyone has to walk on eggshells and not speak their beliefs. I don't agree with Copeland but to punish him for what is said in a private conversation, is not free speech. "Hate" is a broad term but it also applies to posters and people here who call others "bigots", homophobes", etc just to stop debate. Treating people poorly and hatefully just because they belong to the Tea Party and you don't agree with you politically, is "hate speech". If the shoe fits........

Ditto ItsaRepublic! Ms. O'Toole was offended by Bob Copeland's remarks made in a private situation. She spoke to him about it. Should have ended right there. Instead she ran to the newspaper and has started a firestorm that could just hurt the Town of Wolfboro's tourist season. Me thinks the lady is a troublemaker and should move on down the road.

"Me thinks the lady is a troublemaker and should move on down the road." Classic. Just so Peyton Place-esque - let's hide any evidence of racism because it might get uncomfortable. Well, that's how racism persists. Indeed, makes me wonder if you aren't a bit of a racist deep down if you think this isn't a cringe-worthy moment for the Town and behavior that demands a resignation. As an elected official, he represents the Town.

He had no expectation of privacy in a public setting. And any decent human being should have done the same thing she did. His remarks were out of line for anyone in a position of authority.

There is no expectation of privacy in a public venue.

He has a right to his opinion as a private citizen, no matter how ignorant. When he is in a government position, he represents all the people, and rightly was forced to resign. If you want to judge someone, do it on some basis other than the color of their skin, i.e. the content of their character. Is that so hard? You obviously have your views on the American story, but it is not all one of greatness. Slavery is our original sin, and vestiges of slavery persist today. Maybe your are too young or forgetful to know, but i remember the governors of Alabama and Mississippi personally preventing black students from entering the State University campus. That engrained belief in black inferiority did not just go away and it requires constant vigilance to root it out.

This is what happens when you surround yourself with people that think just like you and listen to hate radio or fake news. You can't understand why everyone is shocked by your racist comment about the President of the United States.

“I believe I did use the ‘N’ word in reference to the current occupant of the Whitehouse (sic). For this I do not apologize – he meets and exceeds my criteria for such.” WHAT?!?!?!? Arrogance personified! Paula Dean? Mark Furman? Quentin Tarantino? Michael Richards? Madonna? Donald Sterling? Is this guy completely obtuse? He needs to go! His first amendment rights don't earn him a pass for being a racist. Think what you want, Mr. Copeland. But when you say it out loud or are idiotic enough to write it, you've crossed the line. Wolfeboro, do the right thing.

Thank you Jane O'Toole for speaking out and disclosing this horrendous person. Thank you Brian Murphy for showing us how professional law enforcement officers feel about such despicable bigotry. Thank you Linda Murray for taking a stand. Shame on you Joseph Balboni. You have disgraced your community and our state by standing with this hate filled elected official. Wolfeboro residents now have an opportunity to do the right thing for their town and demand that both of these men resign-immediately.

Excellent remark! Someone was paying attention in civics class!

"I believe I used the "N" word" is the true coward coming out in Mr. Copeland! He can't even speak the truth about himself. And just who is responsible for the "momentous" minority issues Mr. Copeland speaks about? Respect? Mr. Copeland appears to be lacking the very trait which may well explain his prejudging of people based upon his personal criteria and the color of their skin. Amazing! What is the criteria Mr. Copeland employs to arrive at his conclusions about "those among them undeserving of respect"?

Copeland's duties on the police commission include hiring, firing, setting salaries, etc. To have a known ~ unabashed & unapologetic ~ racist in that position is unprofessional at best, inherently prejudicial at worst. IF Wolfeboro residents don't object to a boatload of civil lawsuits from past or present employees AND rejected applicants, then go ahead & keep your bigot!

Strongly concur!

So the Police Commissioner thinks it's OK to express racist hatefulness toward someone who does not meet his personal criteria for respect? (Of course, this assumes that he has perfect and complete knowledge about the subject of his hate, and that his judgment is spot-on. Arrogant.) If he would NOT, in a personal encounter, treat that person with the same level of disrespect, then he is a coward and a blowhard -- so prevalent among the current crop of conservatives -- and does not belong in any public office. If he WOULD, then he is just a racist, and does not belong in any public office.

AGREED!

Sarah Palermo has written an important, incisive article about Wolfeboro Police Commissioner Bob Copeland. Major kudos go to Jane O'Toole, for bringing to light and standing up to the obscene racism on proud public display by elected town official Bob Copeland. Based on the reaction of other town officials so far - pass the buck, circle the wagons - her reluctance to press forward is understandable. Thanks are also due to Select Board Chair Linda Murray for her prompt attention to this despicable act. It is hard to believe that the citizens of Wolfeboro will tolerate such obscene bigotry publicly displayed and later confirmed by police commissioner Bob Copeland. It is also difficult to stomach fellow commissioner Balboni's willingness to defend Copeland's smear and subsequent affirmation. Balboni and Goodgame are circling the wagons for tonight's meeting. Copeland must accept the consequences for his actions. It will be unsurprising if Copeland refuses to resign. If Balboni and Goodgame refuse to ask for his resignation, that says something about their character, too. At that point, the citizens of Wolfeboro must rise up and recall Copeland. If they do not, it says something about them. Such hate. It makes me ill. Do the right thing, folks.

When a bright light is shown into the corners, roaches scatter. The town will be better for it.

As a resident of Wolfeboro this is a very painful topic, but Sarah Palermo has done an excellent job of putting all of the information out there. Very well written. Thank you so much.

Bob Copeland certainly doesn't speak for New Hampshire, and he won't be speaking for Wolfeboro much longer, either. This thing is all over the internet, and God help us, may even show up on SNL. Timing is right for it.

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