Author Testifying in Hate Crime Case Says ‘N-Word’ Does Not Necessarily Imply Racism

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The New York Sun

Jurors in the hate crime case of a white man who shouted racial epithets as he struck a black man with a baseball bat heard a black Harvard Law School professor testify that a racial epithet referred to as the “n-word” does not automatically imply racial animus.

Professor Randall Kennedy, author of “Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word” and an expert in race linguistics, told a state Supreme Court jury in Queens that the epithet was “a complicated word” and that its precise meaning must be determined from its context.

The testimony is the second by a black man in defense of Nicholas Minucci, 19, who is charged with assaulting Glen Moore, 23, in the predominantly white Howard Beach, Queens, last June. If the jury convicts Mr. Minucci of a racially motivated hate crime rather than simple assault, he could face up to 25 years in prison.

Upon questioning from Mr. Minucci’s lawyer Albert Gaudelli, Mr. Kennedy said that the epithet could be used as pejorative, salutatory, descriptive, or satirical. While Mr. Kennedy acknowledged that the word’s “primary usage” was as a racial insult and that it was still “clearly a volatile word,” he also described the epithet as “a word that can be put to many different usages.”

Mr. Kennedy offered an example, saying the word is used “sometimes as a racial insult, sometimes the word is used as a term of endearment.”

An assistant district attorney, Mariela Herring, asked Mr. Kennedy if he thought racism was the impetus for Mr. Minucci’s actions – but Mr. Kennedy never had to answer because of defense objections that Mr. Kennedy couldn’t possibly know what was in Mr. Minucci’s mind as he taunted and beat Mr. Moore.

Mr. Kennedy said the epithet’s long history and multiple usages require the context to be considered when determining the meaning. While Mr. Kennedy – who said he had only read a little about the case and its facts before testifying – did not have to interpret the context and decide whether the crime was a hate crime or not, the jury will.

On Wednesday, hip-hop producer Gary Jenkins also testified in Mr. Minucci’s defense, saying that the younger generation’s common usage of the epithet has changed its colloquial meaning and somewhat mitigated its offensiveness.

Mr. Gaudelli began arguing that the potential vagueness of the epithet makes it impossible to conclude hate crime after he argued in earlier hearings that Mr. Minucci was acting as a de facto community police. The prosecution earlier acknowledged that Mr. Moore and two others were in the area to steal a car and Mr. Gaudelli has argued that this knowledge provoked Mr. Minucci to act.

“They were selected not because they were black. They were selected because they were out there to commit a crime,” Mr. Gaudelli told The New York Sun before yesterday’s hearing.

The New York Sun

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