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Stupid, offensive: Is N-word vanity plate next?

May 17. 2014 2:38AM

Some people say stupid, thoughtless, offensive things.

That is their right. But it must also be their burden to take responsibility for what they say. Most times, nothing comes of it. But if they are in a position of some public standing, even if largely ceremonial, they need to be held accountable for their actions.

Wolfeboro Police Commissioner Bob Copeland said an incredibly stupid and insensitive thing about President Obama. He said it loud enough to be heard in a public dining facility and he ought to be ashamed.

He has said he ran for police commission (he was just reelected to a three-year term) to support the department because "not everybody looks upon the police department in a positive light." Well, his continued presence on the commission is going to guarantee that fewer people will see the police department and the town in a positive light or trust it to treat everyone fairly.

How, for instance, is a black deputy county sheriff, who works summer parttime hours as a Wolfeboro officer, going to be made to feel?

We suspect Copeland is regretting his words. But he is also 82 years old, has served his nation in the U.S. Navy, and was a lawyer with Ford Motor Company before retiring. (Come to think of it, Ford founder Henry Ford also said some incredibly stupid and insensitive things in his day.)

It may be difficult for him, but we are guessing Copeland will do the right thing and step aside for the good of the police and his town.

Which still leaves the question of what the Department of Motor Vehicles is to do when someone applies for the "N-word'' as a vanity license plate. The DMV had rejected a "COPSLIE'' plate on the grounds that "a reasonable person would find COPSLIE offensive to good taste."

Defending its position before the state Supreme Court, DMV counsel said the wording was insulting to police and "disparaged an entire class of people.''

But our court, now in the license plate business, found the DMV standard arbitrary and unconstitutionally vague because it is "so loosely constrained" that it "authorizes or even encourages arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement."

Great. We think the DMV should just cede vanity plate review to the court.

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