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Delegate Lisanti should resign over use of a racial slur

Delegate Lisanti should resign over use of a racial slur
Mary Ann Lisanti, Harford County state delegate. (Courtesy Photo / HANDOUT)

Del. Mary Ann Lisanti, who is white, has tried to apologize her way out of the firestorm she created by using an offensive racial slur to describe African Americans in Prince George’s County. But we question her sincerity and don’t think it is enough to restore the trust of her constituents. We concur with the Maryland Democratic Party, the Maryland Republican Party, the African American Democratic Clubs of Maryland, the Legislative Black Caucus, the ACLU of Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman and Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks: She needs to resign.

The wishy washy, all over the place responses she has given to explain away the incident at Annapolis Cigar, in which she told a white colleague he was knocking on doors in a “n----- district” when campaigning for someone else last election season have done nothing for her credibility.

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For one, she was pressured into taking responsibility, and this wasn’t the first time she’s used the slur. She told a reporter with The Washington Post, which broke the story, that she’s said it before: “I’m sure I have. ... I’m sure everyone has used it. I’ve used the f-word. I used the Lord’s name in vain.”

No, Ms. Lisanti, not everyone uses the n-word. In fact, we are pretty certain that most people don’t use the word. And dropping a curse word is nowhere in the same realm as using a derogatory, repulsive racial slur to describe a whole neighborhood of people.

Then, she walked back her admission, in apologizing for using the word this week and said it is not an expression in her vocabulary. Well, Ms. Lisanti, this is not exactly a word that so easily, casually or accidentally slips off the tongue. In fact, people who truly grasp the offensiveness of the word would feel uncomfortable using it. There is no acceptable use of the word.

At this point it is going to take a lot for her constituents to believe that she can faithfully represent all of them, particularly the African Americans voters in Harford County who helped her win office. African Americans represent about one-third of her district, according to the Maryland Democratic Party. It leaves one to wonder what exactly was running through Ms. Lisanti’s mind when she was the one knocking on doors in African American neighborhoods trying to win votes.

How can people in her district have faith that she will represent their best interests? That concern will linger in the minds of people for years to come. The people of her district deserve better.

A Harford County NAACP official said the racial slur will change a lot of minds about her, but the group has not gone as far as to call for her resignation.

House Speaker Michael Busch did the right thing, responding quickly to strip her of posts as chairwoman of a House subcommittee on unemployment insurance and as House chairwoman of a joint committee on unemployment insurance. She has also agreed to participate in “sensitivity training.”

That was a good start, but the entire House, not just Speaker Busch, needs to make a formal response indicating for the record that Delegate Lisanti’s remarks are unacceptable. The House needs to vote to formally censure her, and if she won’t resign they should also consider expelling her.

The punishment may seem extreme to some, but the message needs to be sent about the seriousness of using such a racial slur. In this day and age this is a concept that should not have to be explained, but apparently it does.

Ms. Lisanti apologized to the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland on Monday, and she issued a statement Tuesday that also offered an apology to citizens of her district, the people of Maryland and her colleagues in the General Assembly.

Mr. Busch said her apology sounded sincere. We have no doubt that she was sincerely sorry — after she got caught. But Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s apology for his use of blackface in the 1980s (and his shifting explanations for the now infamous photo in his medical school yearbook) wasn’t enough for him to restore his constituents’ trust, and Ms. Lisanti’s isn’t either. This is not something you can just say you’re sorry for and move on.

If Ms. Lisanti is truly as remorseful about using the word as she says, she needs to prove it. Yes, she should attend sensitivity training. She should volunteer and give back in the African American neighborhoods she seemed to think so little about (both in her district and in Prince George's), and she needs to truly reflect on whatever potentially racist views she might have.

But as of now, there is no place for her in the General Assembly.

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