US Naval Academy Dismisses Midshipman for Using Racial Slur

FILE - This May 10, 2007 file photo shows the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. (AP Photo/Kathleen Lange, File)
FILE - This May 10, 2007 file photo shows the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. (AP Photo/Kathleen Lange, File)

The Naval Academy has dismissed a midshipman from New York for using a racial slur when speaking online with other midshipmen.

Midshipman 4th Class Ted Colter was expelled from the school Feb. 26 for unsatisfactory conduct after using a racial slur for African-Americans three times in talking with members of his company, according to his attorney and a memo provided to The Capital.

Colter plans to appeal his dismissal, his attorney said, arguing the language is common to a "generation of street-tough teenagers" from Colter's home in Queens.

The incident is the only one in recent memory in which a midshipman was separated -- the official term for being expelled -- for using a racial slur, said Cmdr. David McKinney, an academy spokesman.

"We have high standards for dignity and respect here at the Naval Academy and Midshipman Colter did not live up to those high standards," McKinney said.

Jeff McFadden, Colter's lawyer and a Naval Academy graduate, is challenging the decision, saying the academy missed an opportunity to teach leadership by mediating the situation and the slur was not used in a discriminatory manner.

Colter has the option of filing a claim with the Board of Corrections of Naval Records to reverse the separation.

McFadden provided a memo from academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Ted Carter to Navy officials asking that Colter be expelled for unsatisfactory conduct. Two midshipmen filed Command Management Equal Opportunity complaints against Colter, Carter said.

In the Feb. 20 memo, Carter wrote that Colter "twice sent pre-generated images with racially-charged language to classmates." According to McFadden, these were memes Colter found online and then shared in group chats.

One meme sent last summer said: "Y'all Florida (slur) better" and then "get outta town" in reference to the approaching Hurricane Irma. Another was shared in September in reference to escalating tensions between America and North Korea, featuring an image of Kim Jong-un pointing a gun, superimposed over a map of America, reading "Night Night (slur)."

Neither was discriminatory or directed at a specific person or race, McFadden said.

In October, Colter posted in a group chat a mnemonic device he created to help remember the terms "application, transport, network, data link and physical," according to a statement of cause submitted by McFadden. Colter used the slur in a sexually explicit way in his mnemonic device.

But the attorney said Colter's use of the word was a joke in "bad taste and lacking judgment," but "similar to the numerous other vulgar and bawdy acronyms used throughout Bancroft Hall."

According to copies of the exchange provided by McFadden, Colter changed the phrase after being told to stop saying "that word" and that it's "not cool" by two company mates. He changed the word to "ninja."

"When viewed in its proper context, the speech underlying the violations is, however facially or subjectively 'offensive,' simply the repartee and patois of a generation of street-tough teenagers from one of the most racially diverse parts of the country," McFadden wrote.

One of the people who filed a complaint, an African-American midshipman, requested the song "Humble" by Kendrick Lamar be played as the company worked on spirit posters, McFadden argued. "Humble" uses the same word, as well as sexually charged and drug-related language, McFadden argued.

Carter disagreed.

"Setting this false equivalency aside, Midshipman 4/C Colter's show cause statement ignores the fact other midshipmen confronted him about how uncomfortable he made them, and his response was to continue his behavior," Carter wrote.

What's at issue are ambiguities and potential double-standards in the way young people speak with one another, McFadden said -- an issue the Naval Academy could have addressed.

"Instead there was no discussion," he said.

The Rev. Stephen Tillett, who is president of the Anne Arundel County branch of the NAACP and not involved in the case, said the racial epithet in question has always been used by non-African-Americans in a pejorative and disrespectful way.

"You don't get to reinterpret it and say because African-Americans in the rap industry use it, it is no longer disrespectful or pejorative," Tillett said.

This article is written by Rachael Pacella from The Capital, Annapolis, Md. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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