Towing contractor used racial slur, delegate says

Man responded to call from Burns in Pikesville

August 18, 1999|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

Del. Emmett C. Burns Jr., a Baltimore County Democrat and longtime civil rights activist, said yesterday that a towing contractor, who responded to a call for his disabled van, uttered a racial slur against him.

Burns, a delegate since 1994, said that his Dodge van would not start about 2 p.m. Monday while parked in the lot at the Staples store at Old Court and Reisterstown roads in Pikesville.

He called the AAA dispatcher and was told the wait for service would be two hours. He canceled the call and went to a 5: 30 p.m. service at Rising Sun First Baptist Church in Woodlawn, where he is pastor.

Burns returned to the lot about 10: 15 p.m. and again called for service.

"The technician, if you want to call him that, showed up by 11: 30 in an old pickup, and he appeared to have been off balance or intoxicated," Burns said. "He was very inarticulate, sitting in that truck that was unmarked. I knew by looking at the truck he wasn't going to be able to help me."

The technician started to fill out a form, but he wrote so slowly that Burns grew impatient.

"I said to him, `Why don't you see if you can't get the van started, and if you can't get the van started, call the tow truck,' " Burns said.

At that point, the technician threatened to leave, Burns said. "I said, `OK, why don't you leave then,' because I could see a confrontation was brewing."

"He said, `Not only am I going to leave, but I'm going to see you don't get any service tonight, n-----.'

`I said, `What did you say to me?' "

The technician repeated the racial slur.

"I said, `Don't call me that.' And he said, `That's not all. It's to your momma, too.' "

After the technician left, Burns called the AAA dispatcher, who informed him that the technician had already called in and admitted using the racial slur, and had accused Burns of being abusive.

"As a lawmaker, as a minister, I was not dressed in sloppy clothes," said Burns, who has held offices in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People at the national level and in state chapters in Mississippi and Maryland.

"I was acting professionally with this man. It didn't matter to him. The fact that I was black was the only thing that mattered," Burns said.

AAA officials said last night that they are investigating the incident. They have identified the technician involved, but refused to release his name or the name of the company he works for.

"First of all, we want to state the driver of this vehicle is not a AAA employee," said Myra Wieman, a spokeswoman for the mid-Atlantic office. "This is the employee of an independent towing contractor.

"Obviously, the AAA company policy is we do not discriminate. We try to ensure the contractors follow this same policy," she said. "The behavior that is described in Delegate Burns' letter is totally unacceptable. We are in the midst of an intense investigation into this entire call."

Burns said he is contemplating legal action. Any settlement would include a requirement for sensitivity training for AAA employees and contractors, he said.

Pub Date: 8/18/99

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