MADISON, Wis. — State Sen. Lena Taylor said Monday she used a controversial phrase with a bank teller because he was deferring to his boss and wasn’t doing more to help her.
“He was going along to get along even though it wasn’t the right thing,” the Milwaukee Democrat said in a lengthy interview on WNOV-AM (860).
“I said, ‘You did a really good job today of acting like a good house (racial slur),'” she told host Sherwin Hughes.
In the interview of more than two hours, Taylor for the first time provided her account of an April incident at the Wells Fargo branch on Wisconsin Avenue that resulted in her getting a $195 ticket for disorderly conduct.
She is fighting the ticket, which is civil rather than criminal. She said she was not being boisterous and video from the bank would show that.
Witnesses told police that Taylor used the N-word. A police official wrote in his report that Taylor said she used the phrase “house Negro.” Taylor said in her radio interview that she used a different phrase that sounds similar to Negro.
Taylor told Hughes — who once served as her communications director — she believed she could speak as she did because she and those she was addressing were African-American. She said she was bothered that some considered it a racial slur.
“I do regret that we’re in this situation and that I could have used — that I did not use a different choice of words,” she said. “But can I say something? In our music, in our language, in our community, in our culture, there are conversations that are had in the black community or among black people that are different than conversations (elsewhere).”
One WNOV caller told Taylor the exchange was offensive, no matter what precise word she used, because she preceded it with the word “house.” She asked Taylor if she thought what she said was offensive, and Taylor responded by saying she didn’t know how the teller felt.
“I’m sorry if he felt uncomfortable. I felt uncomfortable, too,” she said, speaking of her frustration over reaching higher-level bank officials to talk about their policies.
Police officers were already at the bank dealing with another matter and bank officials asked them to get involved in the dispute with Taylor. They then issued her the ticket.
The Milwaukee Police Department officers and supervisors who handled the matter were white, she said.
“I know cultural competency is not a strong point of MPD,” she said.
The dispute began because Taylor wanted information about an $825 rent check for a property she owns. Taylor wanted to know if the check was legitimate because it was a starter check and she didn’t fully trust her tenant.
Police officer Kevin Friedel wrote in his report that the incident became so heated that he placed himself between Taylor and the bank teller because he feared Taylor might get physical. Taylor downplayed that claim, saying the officer had overblown the situation.
The police have video from bank security cameras and police officer body cameras, but that footage has not yet been released.
Taylor has entered a not guilty plea and is scheduled for a pretrial appearance on Aug. 1.