Unearthing the 'N-word'

"In the past 30 days, I've been called a nigger more than any time in my entire life."

Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick made that shocking statement during the explosive finale to his State of the City speech on March 11. And immediately, alarm bells began sounding in the collective mind that is News Hits. Who, we wondered, could have gotten close enough to the mayor to shout the N-word at him during that month? He was either hiding in seclusion or appearing before selected, friendly audiences in that time just after the eruption of the text message scandal — which supposedly precipitated all that alleged N-word calling.

The initial reaction from most was to castigate KK for playing the race card and adding even more distance to this region's already considerable racial divide. However, kind souls that we are, News Hits thought we'd give the mayor a chance to prove his allegations and filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the city's Law Department. We asked to be provided with "any documentation, record, correspondence or other information reflecting the labeling of Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick as a 'nigger'" during the 30 days inquestion. We also wanted to see some proof substantiating Kilpatrick's claim that he'd received numerous death threats during that same month.

Who knows? Maybe there was a slur-slinging incident noted in a police report. Or an anonymous letter with the N-word. And certainly there would be documentation of something as serious as threats on the mayor's life.

The Law Department responded as always: It sent a letter seeking the 10-day extension allowed under the FOIA law.

So we waited the 10 days and then ... nothing. And then many more days of more nothing. We sent e-mails to Ellen Ha, the assistant city attorney who handles FOIA requests. We called and left messages.

And still nothing.

Finally last week, we reached Ha, at her desk, who told us that she'd attempted to track down the documents we requested, but so far wasn't getting much cooperation.

And who, we asked, was she going to for the info?

"It would have to come from ..." she began to reply before suddenly stopping herself. "I really don't want to say," she said before adding, "but I don't have the records."

We understand she might feel extra harried since news reports identify her as one of 10 attorneys under investigation by the Attorney Grievance Commission for parts they played in the celebrated police whistleblower case that led to all this.

Besides, Ha said, her office has been inundated with FOIA requests, handling 1,200 over the past four months. If nothing else, Kilpatrick's tenure is providing a lot of work for the men and women who operate the Law Department's copying machines.

Since filing our FOIA, however, it turns out that someone actually was caught calling Kwame a variation of the N-word. And he called them the same right back.

Within the past few weeks, the judge presiding over felony perjury and obstruction cases being brought against Kilpatrick and former chief of staff/paramour Christine Beatty ordered the release of documents containing details from text messages that hadn't yet been published by the Freep.

A brief previously written by Mike Stefani, the lawyer representing three whistle-blowing cops, revealed that text messages allegedly sent between Kwame and Christine show them lovingly calling each other "nigga," or sometimes, just to mix things up, he'd charmingly refer to her as his "nigette."

Which got News Hits to thinking. A successful FOIA request can't be too specific. Maybe the documents we requested exist and the problem is that our request was too narrowly framed. So we have a call in to the crack legal team that advises us on such matters to see if we should file a new, more-expansive FOIA request asking for documented instances where the mayor was called either a "nigger and/or any of its variations, including but not limited to nigga, nigette, etc., etc., etc."

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]