Editorial: Copeland must resign as Wolfeboro police commissioner

Last modified: 5/18/2014 12:31:01 AM
‘When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you don’t really have to do anything, you just let them talk.”

Those words by President Obama came last month in reaction to racist remarks made by now-exiled Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.

But they may as well have been directed toward Wolfeboro, and specifically at Police Commissioner Robert Copeland.

Since reports surfaced last week of his own racist remarks, Copeland has been talking, and talking. And, apparently, doing very little listening. From this point on, though, the only words anyone needs to hear from Copeland are “I’m sorry” and “I resign.”

Copeland’s racist language shocked a relative newcomer to Wolfeboro in March when Jane O’Toole overheard the commissioner call Obama a “f------ n-----,” while in a restaurant. She called him out at the scene, but not until later did she realize those words had come from an elected police commissioner, whose responsibilities include making hires, setting salaries and handling disciplinary action for the town’s police department.

She was told by others to let it go. What could she possibly do to change the opinion of an influential public official with a racist attitude? But she couldn’t just let it go. And she didn’t.

It was her thoughtful yet forceful response to the town manager and the police commission itself that uncovered Copeland’s unabashed racist attitude.

Back in Los Angeles this past week, Sterling had the opportunity to apologize before a national audience. His apology was half-hearted, and he took the opportunity to throw a baseless backhanded insult at Magic Johnson. Copeland could have learned from Sterling’s futile refusal to take responsibility.

Instead, the 82-year-old Wolfeboro resident has doubled down on his racist language. In a letter to O’Toole, he defended his use of words, using a contrived argument that Obama rose to the level where he “meets and exceeds my criteria” to use the racist language.

During a tense meeting on Thursday, Copeland reiterated his position that it’s essentially okay to use the word if you truly dislike the person enough. “The comment I made was directed at one single person,” he said. “I have nothing but hatred for the president.”

Initially, the comments drew a fair share of shoulder shrugging from some of those you’d expect to be outraged..

Among them was this view from fellow Police Commission Chairman Joseph Balboni: “He said some harsh words about Mr. Obama, and here we are. This woman, she’s blowing it all out of proportion.”

On Friday, State Sen. Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, called Copeland and urged him to resign, a day after calling on his friend to “apologize for the remarks he made.” Later in the day, Wolfeboro’s select board and town manager issued a call for Copeland to step down.

There’s plenty of reasons Copeland needs to go. This story has since gone national, grabbing headlines in major metros and small-town dailies. His words reflect horribly on the town and the state. Copeland’s language and refusal to step down puts the town’s police department in an impossible position. One resident at a public meeting on Thursday even aired concern that there could be a tourist boycott this summer.

But the biggest reason for Coleman to step down is far less complicated. Public officials set the tone for our communities. To have someone connected to the town’s police department openly air such ignorant views devalues our hard-fought racial progress.

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