A Michigan county official is defending his use of the word N – constantly saying slur, and insisting it does not mean he is racist.
Leelanau County Road Commissioner Tom Eckerle has been facing calls to resign since Tuesday, when he reportedly used one of the most taboo words in American society to explain why he would not wear a face mask.
“Well, it ‘s all because of their n ****** down in Detroit,” Eckerle said, according to the Leelanau Enterprise.
Commissioner Bob Joyce quickly objected to Eckerle’s use of the word, “You can not say that!” he is quoted as saying.
“I can say anything I want,” Eckerle replied. “The blackness of Black Life has everything to do with the country leaving us.”;
Eckerle made the comments in the committee meeting room on Tuesday, shortly before a public meeting began. Discussing the incident later in a telephone interview with Public Radio Interlochen, Eckerle doubled down.
“No, I do not regret calling him n *****,” Eckerle told IPR. “A n ***** is ***** is a *****. This is not any person.”
IPR reports that the commissioner compared the use of the word to say someone is German, or a “Polack”, a derogatory term for people of Polish descent.
“No, it’s not racism,” Eckerle said.
Some of Michigan’s top officials disagree, and they are urging Eckerle to resign. Govchen Gretchen Whitmer added her name to those seeking to leave Eckerle on Friday.
“Governor Whitmer believes Road Commissioner Tom Eckerle should resign immediately,” said Tiffany Brown, the governor’s press secretary. “His comments are cruel. The governor has been very clear – there is no room for hatred and racism in Michigan.”
The members of the road commission are elected officials, who hold office for a six-year term. Eckerle, a Republican, was elected in 2018.
Rep. O. Jack O’Malley, a Republican whose district includes Leelanau County, says he asked Eckerle to hear his side of the story – and that after hearing it, he asked the commissioner to resign. Eckerle declined, says O’Malley.
“I reminded him that he represents everyone in Leelanau County just like me,” O’Malley said via Facebook, “and his comments were and are beyond nonsense.”
O’Malley says there are at least two ways to remove a road commissioner. Voters can request a withdrawal, he said; or the county board may ask the governor to remove him.
Eckerle colleagues at Leelanau County Road Commission signed a joint letter Thursday, urging him to resign immediately.
“We will not tolerate any kind of racism in our meeting room or in our organization,” the other four members of the commission wrote. They added that Eckerle’s conduct has had “a serious effect” on the commission.
The Northern Michigan Anti-Racism Task Force, a defense group, is calling on county officials to demand the removal of Eckerle. The group also says a memorial petition is being set up.
“We are working with other members of the community to begin the effort to withdraw the petition,” the working team said in an email to NPR on Friday. “There is no room for hatred in our beautiful northern Michigan communities.”
A day after Eckerle used slag in a formal setting, Whitmer signed an executive order declaring racism to be a public health crisis in Michigan.
The COVID-19 pandemic, Whitmer said, has exposed “the deadly nature of pre-existing inequalities caused by systemic racism.”
The next meeting of the road commission is scheduled for August 18.