I heart Bob Herbert

The columnist covers sexism in the NYPD and the misogyny of violence. All in a week's work.

Published April 23, 2007 9:03PM (EDT)

I have two new reasons -- in the form of some 1,400 words -- for my platonic politi-crush on Bob Herbert. Reason No. 1: His coverage in today's New York Times of two separate incidents in which female New York police officers were called "nappy-headed hos" days after Don Imus' ill-famed remarks. In the first incident, a Queens narcotics sergeant is said to have told a black female officer: "Don't give me no lip or I'll have to call you a nappy-headed ho." In the second incident, just a few days later, a Brooklyn police sergeant reportedly called three female officers -- two of whom are black, one a Latina -- "hos" during roll call and ordered them to stand up. When they refused to stand, another officer allegedly chimed in, "No, sergeant, not just hos, but nappy-headed hos."

Bonita Zelman, a lawyer representing the three Brooklyn officers, said, "We have tremendous concern about the effect of language like this on women police officers, particularly women of color trying to make their way in the largely white male bureaucracy of a police department." As Herbert argues, this is far more than a crackdown by the p.c. language police: "It's fair to wonder, for example, how eager a supervisor might be to recommend a major promotion for an employee he refers to as a 'ho.'" He argues that these incidents are only two examples "of the myriad ways in which racist and sexist comments like Mr. Imus's help to poison the atmosphere all around us." Most upsetting, of course, is that it's doubtful the "Imus virus" -- in Zelman's words -- has done much more than offer a script for feelings that were already present in the department (and culture at large).

Reason No. 2: A reader just sent us a link to Herbert's column from last week (available to non-TimesSelect subscribers here), in which he focused his cross hairs on violence and misogyny. He reasons, "A close look at the patterns of murderous violence in the U.S. reveals some remarkable consistencies, wherever the individual atrocities may have occurred. In case after case, decade after decade, the killers have been shown to be young men riddled with shame and humiliation, often bitterly misogynistic and homophobic, who have decided that the way to assert their faltering sense of manhood and get the respect they have been denied is to go out and shoot somebody." The case of Virginia Tech killer Cho Seung-Hui is only the most recent example of some of this. Cho "was reported to have stalked female classmates and to have leaned under tables to take inappropriate photos of women. A former roommate told CNN that Mr. Cho once claimed to have seen 'promiscuity' when he looked into the eyes of a woman on campus," Herbert writes.

He continues: "Violence is commonly resorted to as the antidote to the disturbing emotions raised by the widespread hostility toward women in our society and the pathological fear of so many men that they aren't quite tough enough, masculine enough -- in short, that they might have homosexual tendencies."

Mental swoon.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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