A police sergeant in Coral Springs, Florida, has been demoted after telling a racist joke that included the N-word to a black colleague.
Sgt. David Weissman reportedly told his co-worker, “How many Mexicans does it take to clean a bathroom? None, that is a n***er’s job.” Unsurprisingly, his colleague did not find that quip very funny.
According to the Sun Sentinel, there was a Hispanic-American detective present when the joke was said as well. Following a department investigation, the department determined that Weissman had an improper demeanor by sharing the joke, engaged in conduct unbecoming of a member of the department, and created an offensive work environment.
To his credit, Weissman apologized to his co-worker immediately after learning he had offended him. He also acknowledged that the joke was inappropriate, in general, and specifically, in the workplace.
However, he maintains that his behavior was not a violation of the city’s workplace harassment policy.
Despite his defense, as of Friday he was demoted to patrol officer, suspended without pay for two months, and ordered to undergo at least 40 hours of sensitivity training.
As a result of his demotion, Weissman’s current salary of $110,896 will be reduced to $86,745. He’s been with the department since 1999 and reportedly plans to appeal the disciplinary action decided upon by City Manager Michael Goodrum and Police Chief Clyde Parry.
It should be noted that it is safe to assume that the officer Weissman directed his crass joke to was not just being overly-sensitive as he moonlights as a stand-up comedian, therefore, he likely has a strong understanding of the many facets of comedy.
It is apparent that Weissman crossed a fine line which he may have felt was ok for him to do because he is Jewish. According to the Sun Sentinel, Weissman argued he has been the target of anti-Semitic jokes that he didn’t report because he knew there was no malicious intent behind the remarks.
However, where Weissman clearly went wrong is assuming that what’s acceptable to him would also fly with people from other minority groups.
“I am not a malicious individual and I’ve never demonstrated racial bias in my 19 years in the workplace,” Weissman said during a Dec. 15 department hearing.
He also reportedly noted that he has mentored two female African-American detectives, created a bike unit staffed by a diverse group of officers, and does not have a track record of insulting people. He insists that he is actually a victim of political correctness.
The officer’s lawyer, Gene Gibbons, thinks they have a strong chance of getting the city’s decision overturned.
“I believe [the discipline] will be overturned when we get outside the city and get someone with a reasonable mind,” Gibbons said. “This is a one-time incident. It’s not anything that is ongoing. He thought he was being funny, he wasn’t and he made a mistake. He’s sorry about it.”
He added: “The city has risen it to where it destroys his character and his reputation. And that’s too much. It’s over the top, excessive. It’s absolutely inappropriate.”
Gibbons also argued that telling jokes is just a part of officer culture.
“To pretend it doesn’t happen is ignoring reality,” Gibbons said. “They’re in high stress jobs. This wasn’t said to a citizen or an arrestee, and it wasn’t said with malice to the guy who heard it. He apologized to his co-worker when he heard that he had upset him and he didn’t wait until after he knew he was in trouble to apologize.”
Be that as it may, no one is criticizing Weissman simply for the act of telling a joke at work. The content and racist nature of the joke is the problem. There are countless, much less offensive, jokes that he could have told. And, he most certainly should not have told one that uses the N-word. The use of that word, alone, sent his joke over the edge.
Countering Gibbons’ assertion about cop culture, Goodrum said:
“We have an amazing police department where everyone treats each other with respect. I never had this complaint about him or anybody before. The one thing clear to me when I met with a lot of officers is that this is not the culture of the organization. It was out of the blue and uncalled for.”
In regards to Weissman’s use of the N-word Goodrum said, “It’s not acceptable. It can’t be tolerated. It’s never acceptable to use that word or any racial slur, in any situation, to anybody.”
People must realize that identifying as a minority does not give you a pass to insult other minorities. Furthermore, listing all of the times in your life and career that you weren't problematic or offensive doesn't absolve you of accountability for the times that you were, even if it was just once.
If Weissman thinks that being Jewish and previously mentoring two black detectives makes his N-word joke socially acceptable, he might need more than 40 hours of sensitivity training to set him straight.
Banner/Thumbnail Photo Credit: Flickr, Nick Gulotta