A Joint Service of Bradley University and Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Peoria NAACP president echoes calls for response to Bartonville fire official using racial slur

Marvin Hightower
Tim Shelley
/
WCBU
Pastor Marvin Hightower, president of the NAACP Peoria Branch.

NAACP Peoria Branch president Marvin Hightower says a viral video of a Bartonville firefighter using a racial slur should prompt some action from village leaders, as village trustee Scott Helms calls for a swift response.

In the video shared on social media platforms, volunteer assistant fire chief Drew Zachman seems to be intoxicated when he punctuates a New Year’s greeting with the derogatory term.

“We buried that word in 2009 at the national convention, and we definitely don't ascribe to anyone using that word because of the negative connotation,” said Hightower. “No one, especially somebody that works in public and serves with taxpayers’ money, should be using that word.”

In a statement issued to media outlets, Helms said Zachman’s actions in the video “have brought Bartonville and (its) citizens great shame and negative acknowledgment nationwide,” adding that Mayor Leon Ricca should “look into his moral compass and take the appropriate and immediate action.”

Helms told WCBU he anticipates village leaders will hold a meeting sometime next week to discuss how to handle the situation. Ricca and other village trustees did not respond to requests for comment.

Hightower said he is glad to hear Helms’ call to hold Zachman accountable.

“What our stance as the NAACP is: that's exactly what they should do,” said Hightower. “We don't want to go and do events or anything like that. We want them to address it within themselves, and then come up with a good ending.”

Hightower said Zachman's use of the slur may not rise to the level of requiring termination because he was off duty and at a private residence. But he said it could be considered an ethical violation.

“Whatever the discipline is, as far as their handbook or whatever they have, they need to address it. If they don't have one, then they need to craft a policy around it and then we certainly would like to talk to them about that,” said Hightower.

“We certainly don't want people to start policing people's homes and what they do privately,” he continued, noting Zachman likely was not thinking rationally at the time the video was taken. “Usually what's inside you, alcohol has a way of bringing it out of you – and so that was in there. So he should go through some bias training, at the very least.”

Hightower said ultimately people need to understand it’s never acceptable to use the slur uttered by Zachman.

“We definitely want to make sure that people address people with respect,” said Hightower. “I want to respect you and I want you to respect me, and that word is totally disrespectful, uncalled for. It's very derogatory and it's triggering to certain individuals, myself included.”

We depend on your support to keep telling stories like this one. You – together with NPR donors across the country – create a more informed public. Fact by fact, story by story. Please take a moment to donate now and fund the local news our community needs. Your support truly makes a difference.

Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.
Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.