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Wolfeboro police commissioner who made racist remark grilled at meeting

Last modified: 5/16/2014 6:02:33 PM
Wolfeboro police Commissioner Bob Copeland did not answer residents calling yesterday for him to resign after he publicly called President Obama a racial slur.

Nor did the other members of the commission – Ron Goodgame or Chairman Joseph Balboni. The three will meet in private “to solve the matter,” and then hold another public meeting, Balboni said.

At least 100 people packed a back room at the town library for the commission’s monthly meeting, the first time since the racist remark Copeland made about Obama in March became widely known.

Dozens of residents called for Copeland to resign.

If he does not, residents vowed, they would demand a recall election.

“Looking beyond the moral case, the practical case is, we depend on tourism, on our reputation as a welcoming town. I would hate to think a boycott of Wolfeboro could be the result of this,” said Boz Hogan.

“Please put aside what is best for you. Do what is best for Wolfeboro and resign today.”

The commission is responsible for hiring, firing and disciplining the town’s police department.

Chief Stuart Chase said after the meeting he couldn’t comment on Copeland’s remarks, but that “locally, people understand they’re elected officials and it doesn’t reflect on the police officers.”

In the parking lot after the meeting, Copeland told one woman that when he called Obama “that f------ n-----,” he was speaking politically and not racially.

“The comment I made was directed at one single person. I have nothing but hatred for the president,” he said.

He ended the conversation when approached by reporters.

His original remarks were overheard at a restaurant by Jane O’Toole, who eventually wrote a letter to the local newspaper.

The crowd greeted O’Toole with a rousing round of applause when she approached the microphone at the meeting.

“Comments like these, especially coming from a public official, are not only inexcusable but also terribly, unfortunately, reflects poorly on our town,” she said.

The paper also printed a reply from Copeland, in which he wrote, “I believe I did use the ‘N’ word in reference to the current occupant of the Whitehouse. For this I do not apologize – he meets and exceeds my criteria for such.”

These remarks were more objectionable to some residents than the original statement.

“Claiming that there are some criteria a black man must avoid, lest he be classified a n----- portrays you as racist far better than simply using ‘n-----’ ever could have,” said high school student Michael Bloomer.

“I see in your quote the potential for America to see New Hampshire as a state of scared, enfeebled older white men. . . . That’s not who we are, and I’m offended to watch my town and my community represented this way,” Bloomer said.

Three residents spoke in defense of Copeland, and about four more applauded them.

“He got in trouble because he said this in Democratic New Hampshire. If he had said this in Republican New Hampshire, who knows what might have happened,” said Frank Bader, who asked why the crowd wasn’t equally outraged by racially charged comments from leaders of the Black Panthers.

In response, Daniel Lyons, a student at Brewster Academy, said he’s a Republican, and he was offended by Copeland’s remarks.

“I want people to know that not all Republicans hold such primitive and ignorant values,” he said.

Wolfeboro, a predominantly white town, consistently votes Republican in national elections, with 56 percent of voters in 2012 choosing Obama’s challenger, Mitt Romney, who owns a summer home in the lakeside town.

“I would hope that my good friend Bob Copeland would apologize for the remarks he made,” said Sen. Jeb Bradley, a lifelong Wolfeboro resident and Republican politician. “They were uncalled for and I hope he’d apologize.”

Tricia Victorin, the Wolfeboro resident Copeland spoke to privately in the parking lot after the meeting, said he was reasonable and listened to her point of view.

“But he doesn’t seem to realize that politically, no matter what he felt about the president, that wasn’t a word he could have attached to any other president. I understand the old guard, the old vocabulary. But it’s a vocabulary you educate yourself away from. You don’t stand up and say, ‘Damn right I said it.’ ”

(Monitor staff reporter Kathleen Ronayne contributed to this story. Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or by email at spalermo@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)


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