A lieutenant from the New York Police Department has admitted to using racially-charged phrases but defended herself by claiming that she had only done so in jest.
In her administrative trial on Tuesday, Lt. Rasheena Huffman, who is facing departmental charges, insisted that she did not know “high yellow” and “chinky eyes” were offensive — phrases she had used in front of her subordinates.
“I did not know that they were derogatory,” Huffman said at Police Headquarters in lower Manhattan, according to the New York Daily News. “Growing up, you would look at a child’s eyes and you would say, ‘She has those cute, chinky eyes.'”
She added, “I was just told that, to Asian people, it’s derogatory. People are adding things to what I said to make me sound crazy or unprofessional.”
The accusations reportedly came from subordinates and other NYPD employees who claim to have heard her use the phrases at work. Aside from the Asian-directed phrases, she allegedly used “redbone” to refer to light-skinned Black people when talking about mixed-race relationships and children.
One officer who filed a lawsuit against her is Vanessa Weinbel, a White woman who happens to have a Black boyfriend. According to Weinbel, she was subjected to racially and sexually offensive comments from Huffman from July 2016 to March 2018.
Huffman allegedly told Weinbel that her boyfriend only likes her because she looks like a “Kardashian chick.” On another occasion, the lieutenant allegedly told her that she should consider herself “lucky” after news of a White man stabbing a Black person “just for being black” had surfaced.
“They’re tired of seeing black men with white women,” Weinbel quoted Huffman as saying, according to NBC News. “So, you should consider yourself lucky because you probably would’ve been shot up first.”
In her trial, Huffman maintained that she never meant to harass anyone and that she only said these things “in a joking way.” She also challenged allegations that her words were offensive, citing urbandictionary.com which, for one, does not describe “high yellow” as derogatory.
Huffman is yet to be convicted and subsequently punished. An attorney from the NYPD advocate’s office seeks to have her put in 30 days of vacation leave and sensitivity training. Weinbel, on the other hand, seeks $15 million in her lawsuit pending in Brooklyn Federal Court.