Calling a black woman “nigger” and telling her to go “back to Africa and swing with the baboons” is not a crime. It’s free speech.
That’s the conclusion of a Spokane Police Department investigation into a letter full of racist vitriol mailed last month to an African-American woman.
Karen Boone, a 37-year-old working mother, got the missive at her home the day after a column she wrote about the importance of ethnic tolerance appeared in The Spokesman-Review. Boone’s picture accompanied the essay.
Police launched an investigation to determine if sending the letter was a hate crime. They decided right away that it wasn’t and closed the case, Boone said Thursday.
The woman said police reopened the investigation after she filed a complaint with the Spokane Human Rights Commission and went public with her story.
“I’m happy that they reopened the investigation,” Boone said. “I’m not satisfied that I had to go on TV to get them to do that.”
On Thursday, the department issued a statement announcing the conclusion of the second probe.
“An analysis of the letter shows that the contents, while deplorable and distasteful, constitute a protected utterance under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States,” the statement says. “The letter made no threats and does not fall under the state or local statute of a hate crime.”
Boone wonders what constitutes a threat. She said she is suspicious now of “every white man who walks across my path, wondering if they’re up to something sinister.
“That threatens to ruin my entire way of life,” she said. “I deal with whites on a daily basis. One should not have to live their life in fear.”
The department said a detective spent several weeks trying to locate the author of the letter, interviewing nearly 30 people and searching computer databases for clues.
Police wanted to check the the writer’s background to see if he or she has a history of violence. The letter was signed, but police have been unable to determine if the name is fake.
Police Chief Terry Mangan said, “This sort of ugly divisiveness and attempt to racially polarize the community are not only reprehensible, but will continue to come under police scrutiny.”
Boone said she was saddended by the decision, not just for herself, but for the community.
“They don’t call it a crime, but I call it a heinous crime,” she said. “What does a lone citizen in the community do when the’re a victim of something like this? Where do they turn for help? That’s the bigger issue.”