A police officer, new to the force, is concerned that his colleagues can’t communicate effectively with the residents of their section. The residents speak the same language as the police, but in a different way.

The officer sends his colleagues an e-mail message with a list of words used in the community with which the officers may not be familiar.

It’s a commendable act, right? A police officer making an extra effort to help his fellow officers communicate with their citizens? It happened in Rochester last month, and the city’s leaders didn’t seem to be too happy about it.

“There is no place for this type of ignorance anywhere in this organization,” Rochester Police Department Chief Robert Duffy wrote in a memo to the department.

The e-mail message, titled “Ghetto Lingo” and written by Officer Brian Sextone, contained 66 examples of street slang and alternate pronunciations translated into standard English. Its stated purpose was “to assist with the translation of certain words and phrases commonly used by residents of our section.”

Some examples included: “Bledat” means “believe that.” “Portican” means “Puerto Rican.” “Set it” means “hit the person.”

As a reward for his efforts, Sextone was fired.

What was the problem? The e-mail was racist, Duffy said. He did not explain his reasoning.

At least one important question remains unanswered. Do people in Sextone’s section, the Clinton section of Rochester, actually speak the way the e-mail says they do?

Mayor William Johnson doesn’t know. “I do not profess to be an expert on street slang,” Johnson said in the Jan. 29 issue of the Democrat and Chronicle. “But I believe some of these terms are absolutely made up.”

The RPD is making no effort to verify Johnson’s belief and no investigation was made before Sextone was fired.

It’s possible that no actual Rochester residents use the words in Sextone’s list and that Sextone made the list to make fun of certain residents. But I think that’s a stretch.

My guess is that Duffy has heard the type of speech Sextone translates, and thinks it an inferior form of language. If this is the case, then it’s just silly. No form of language is inferior or superior to any other.

I’ve heard many people ? blacks, whites, “Porticans” and others ? using some of Sextone’s 66 words and phrases. Should people who speak that way be considered wrong? I don’t think so.

Any effort made to help people of different speaking styles to understand each other, especially to help police officers understand the people they are supposed to be serving, can only be a good thing.

Bock can be reached at dbock@campustimes.org.



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