SUTTONS BAY, Mich. – A northern Michigan county official was heard using a racial slur prior to a public meeting to describe African Americans in Detroit whom he blamed for spreading the coronavirus in the state.
When asked by a colleague why he wasn’t wearing a mask before the meeting on Tuesday, Leelanau County road commissioner Tom Eckerle said “well this whole thing is because of them (racial slur) down in Detroit," according to the Petoskey News-Review.
The Leelanau Enterprise, which first reported the story, said on its website that the meeting could be attended by the public via phone and that anyone listening could have heard the comments. Since it was made before the meeting started, the comment was not officially recorded.
Road Commission Chair Bob Joyce told Eckerle that he couldn’t say that, to which Eckerle responded: “I can say anything I want. Black Lives Matter has everything to do with taking the country away from us.”
Joyce later rebuked Eckerle a second time.
“There’s just no room for that kind of language here,” Joyce told the Leelanau newspaper. “I won’t tolerate any kind of racism in our meeting room or in our organization. Around here, it’s all about the content of people’s character – not the color of their skin.”
The Leelanau Enterprise said two commission members confirmed the comment was made.
State Rep. Jack O’Malley said the county must take action against Eckerle.
"This type of racial slur is flat-out unacceptable and ignorant. I asked Mr. Eckerle to resign his position as road commissioner in light of these comments and shall he refuse, the citizens of Leelanau County have every right to recall him from office,” O’Malley said in a statement. “It saddens me to have to even make this statement.”
Eckerle, a Republican, was elected in 2018 to a six-year term on the road commission.
The Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations also called for Eckerle to resign.
“Dropping the N-word, along with falsely claiming that police accountability activists who are American citizens are taking the country away, is discourse that that must be repudiated by all public officials,” the organization’s Executive Director Dawud Walid said in a statement.
The Associated Press was unable Thursday to find a telephone number to reach Eckerle at home, and emails to his address bounced back. Records show Eckerle lives in Suttons Bay, about to 283 miles (455 kilometers) northwest of Detroit.