Texas Mayor Wants to Outlaw the N-Word

ByABC News
January 25, 2007, 11:18 AM

Jan. 25, 2007 — -- The mayor of a small Texas town wants to make people pay -- literally -- for saying the N-word.

Ken Corley, mayor of Brazoria, Texas, is proposing a citywide ordinance that would make uttering the racial slur punishable by up to a $500 fine.

Recent comments by the Rev. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson about phasing out the N-word inspired Corley, who is white. Although the slur is largely taboo, Corley said he still believes he needs to take a stand.

"It's not an issue in the city of BrazoriaIt is a national issue," he said. "The word is used and abused, obviously, or they wouldn't have been talking about it on national TV. It would be great [for the town] to play a leadership roleThat is a stand that I have decided to take."

Under Corley's proposal, the ordinance would be enforced by citizens complaining to local police who would then write a citation to the offender. The offender would have to appear in court where a judge would determine the level of his or her fine. If approved by the city council, the ordinance would make Brazoria the first town in the country to make uttering the N-word a punishable offense.

But not everyone in Brazoria is in favor of the law. Rev. Dr. Melvin L. Johnson, pastor of the Heart of Christ Community Church, believes it's just a Band-Aid approach to a larger problem.

"This particular focus on this one word does not really address the issues, because we can't regulate people's thoughts," said the pastor, who is black. "A person has a constitutional right to be stupid. We can't make a law against people who may have feelings that we don't approve of."

Johnson believes the ordinance unfairly targets whites and turns a blind eye on blacks who use the N-word.

"It's intended to target whitesbut there are just as many blacks who use the word too," he said. "It's very difficult for meto support any action aimed at one group with the intention of punishment and saying it's alright for another group."

Johnson worries that if the N-word becomes a punishable offense, young people eager to rebel might find it even more enticing than they do now.

"Teenagers, adolescents, they have the tendency to be rebels. God forbid if they use it even more than what it's being used now, but that's highly possible," he said.

Rather than throw legislation at a slur, Johnson wants to get to the root of racial hatred.

"If we can address the root of racial hatred, the word itself and all of the other words of hate and dehumanization would actually lose their meanings," he said. "People would not want to use them, not for fear of law, but for the ability to self-govern."