When a White police officer in Columbia, S.C., twice used the n-word on Saturday while claiming that a Black man had called him the racist slur first, the crowd outside a bar reacted with disbelief.
“Are you serious?” one man asked.
“Can you stop saying that word please?” someone else chimed in.
But in a scene captured on video, Sgt. Chad Walker doubled down, claiming repeatedly that he had the right to repeat the word.
“He can say it to me, but I can’t say it to him?” Walker asked, pointing to the Black man.
On Sunday, after the video spread widely on social media, the Columbia Police Department suspended Walker without pay and the department’s chief apologized for his conduct.
“It is evident the actions of Sgt. Walker were a clear failure to fulfill the expectations and standards of our Department,” Chief W.H. “Skip” Holbrook said in a statement. “The repetition of the racial slur and failure to de-escalate the situation were inexcusable.”
The incident comes amid ongoing national protests against racial inequality in policing, including in Columbia, where dozens have now been arrested over violent clashes with officers that broke out during May protests against George Floyd’s death.
The cellphone video of Walker using the racist slur was filmed on Saturday night, police said, when he entered a bar in the Five Points neighborhood to enforce the governor’s order to stop serving alcohol at 11 p.m., part of the state’s efforts to slow the coronavirus pandemic.
Body camera footage released by the department on Sunday shows Walker, a 14-year veteran, ordering a few patrons in the bar to drop their drinks and leave or face arrest. As one table leaves, Walker accuses a Black man of being “colorblind” for directing the n-word at him; it’s not clear from the audio precisely what the man had said.
Then, outside the bar Walker started arguing with another man who complained that the officer had talked to the Black patron like he was “less than human.”
“The gentleman right there that called me a n—–?” Walker responded, pointing at the Black man before repeating the claim – and the n-word – a second time.
After the Black man repeatedly denied saying the n-word and others challenged Walker for using it, he argued that he was within his rights to repeat the slur.
“When I was called that, I can say it back,” he said.
When someone yelled, “You’re White,” Walker responded indignantly, “Who cares what color I am? He called me a word.”
As someone in the crowd suggested the officer “grow up” and “lead by example,” another officer stepped in front of Walker and led him away from the group. Holbrook on Sunday praised that officer for calming the scene.
“Our officers are trained to serve as leaders and to de-escalate confrontations of potentially volatile situations,” he said. “Although I am embarrassed and disappointed in the Sergeant’s actions, I was encouraged to see a junior officer intervene and remove Walker from the situation, potentially stopping further escalation.”
Walker will remain suspended until the department finishes a disciplinary conduct review, Holbrook said.