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PAULA ZAHN NOW

Banning the N-Word; Palestinian Students Beaten in North Carolina

Aired January 29, 2007 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, everyone. Good evening. Glad to have you with us.
Across America, racism and intolerance lurk just below the surface. And, every night, we're finding and talking about these hidden secrets, bringing them right out into the open.

Tonight: hateful words. Communities debate the N-word and the F- word. If it's calculated to offend, intended to insult, is the answer banning the word?

Shocking attack -- at a Quaker college in the U.S., three Palestinian students say 15 football players brutally beat them and called them terrorists.

Model fit -- another controversy tonight, ex-supermodel Tyra Banks' outrage at tabloid reports that she has gotten too fat. What does this story say about intolerance against people who aren't model thin?

But the first story we're bringing out into the open tonight: what to do about words we all know, words that many of us use to express hatred of a group. In particular, I'm talking about the F- word used to insult gays and the N-word. Words like that are deeply, painfully offensive to many of us.

So, tonight we're going to look at whether banning those words is the answer. We start in Texas, where one small-town mayor tried to do just that.

Ed Lavandera has that story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHAEL RICHARDS, COMEDIAN: He's a (EXPLETIVE DELETED)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When comedian Michael Richards launched into this racially offensive meltdown, the scandal over the N-word hit home in an unlikely place, Brazoria, Texas, a small town of nearly 3,000 people near Houston.

For Mayor Ken Corley, it brought back an old demon.

KEN CORLEY, MAYOR OF BRAZORIA, TEXAS: I have also been asked I have -- if I have used the N-word. And, to answer that question, I have. You know, I'm not proud of it. I do no longer use that word. And -- and I'm thankful that I have made that change in my life.

LAVANDERA: Corley decided to erase the word from his town's vocabulary, too, making it a crime to use the N-word, disturbing the peace, and a $500 fine.

CORLEY: I think the racial problem is everywhere. It's somewhat swept under the rug, you know? You know, a lot of people don't want to admit that they have racial issues.

LAVANDERA: So, this hard-charging former car salesman set out to win people over, starting with black ministers in town.

Bishop Ricky Jones liked what he heard.

RICKY JONES, RESIDENT OF BRAZORIA: This word has been used to demonize, demoralize and degrade black people as a whole. I believe that what has taken place here can really be a trendsetter for the rest of the nation.

LAVANDERA (on camera): When the mayor came up with the idea of banning the N-word, he thought it was a slam-dunk idea, couldn't imagine why anyone would be against it. But he quickly discovered he was wrong.

(voice-over): Around town, most black and white residents thought it was a horrible idea.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't see no reason to do it. We will probably be the ones probably get fined the most, anyway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's get rid of the F-word. Let's get rid of some of the -- the really repulsive curse words that we hear on the street.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many are you going to pick out, just that one?

LAVANDERA: Opposition was so intense, that a public hearing on the issue couldn't fit in the city council chamber. So, instead, 200 people gathered under the lights in the city hall parking lot to let the mayor have it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This ordinance is not going to combat racism going on, on under the table.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have opened up a can of worms.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And it's time for it to be stopped.

LAVANDERA: Mayor Corley knew this was the end of the road.

CORLEY: You all have spoken overwhelmingly against this ordinance. And I think that, this evening, you will hear the last of it.

(APPLAUSE)

LAVANDERA (on camera): Was that rough to go through?

CORLEY: Yes, sir. It probably was the roughest thing I have had ever had to deal with in my 62 years, you know?

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Ken Corley walked into the darkness a defeated man, but hoping that, if nothing else, people here are a little more aware of the power of their words.

Ed Lavandera, CNN, Brazoria, Texas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And the idea of banning the N-word is also getting an awful lot of attention in Hollywood, thanks to two of the people you're about to meet in this report from entertainment correspondent Brooke Anderson.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN CULTURE AND ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The N-word, the term that's been used to denigrate blacks since the days of slavery -- and a growing number of people believe it's been around far too long.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To the N-word, we say just say no.

UNIDENTIFIED MALES AND FEMALES: Just say no.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALES AND FEMALES: Just say no.

ANDERSON: From community leaders and politicians to The Laugh Factory in Los Angeles, where Michael Richards' angry rant started the latest debate.

LESTER BARRIE, COMEDIAN: This word, if we don't do something about it and the hurts that are associated with it, will come up again.

ANDERSON: There is a concerted effort to eliminate the word altogether.

JILL MERRITT, FOUNDER, ABOLISH THE N-WORD PROJECT: The racism and the prejudice and the use of that word is still alive in its original format. Why do you want to associate yourself with a racist philosophy?

ANDERSON: Jill Merritt and Kovon Flowers created the Web site Abolish the N-Word.com last April. Since then, they say the site has received more than 11 million hits.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

NINA SIMONE, SINGER (singing): Bearing strange fruit.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

ANDERSON: Set to Nina Simone singing "Strange Fruit," the site depicts horrifying images of violence against blacks, traces the history of the N-word, and challenges everyone to discontinue its use.

MERRITT: We wanted to do something to educate the youth, to educate the African-American -- African-American youth, and to connect people back to their history.

ANDERSON: The Laugh Factory teamed up with Abolish the N-Word for events in Los Angeles and New York, where celebrities and political leaders shared personal stories about their own experiences with the word.

CYNDA WILLIAMS, ACTRESS: I will never forget the time my Caucasian mother, who had been surrounded by black people for most of her adult life, yelled it at my brother. And, all of a sudden, everything came to a screeching halt.

(MUSIC)

ANDERSON: Merritt and Flowers claim, the hip-hop community shares blame for the word's continued use, as in Kanye West's mega-hit "Gold Digger," and that artists should take more responsibility for their lyrics, something rapper Yo-Yo says she did in her upcoming album.

YO-YO, MUSICIAN: It bothered me. I said, I have to change my lyrics.

ANDERSON: Teacher Olivia Hilburn and principal Carol Spain embraced the Web site's mission by starting an Abolish the N-Word day at their school. But they believe the term shouldn't be eliminated completely.

OLIVIA HILBURN, TEACHER: It should be used in that context, to talk about the history and to talk about slavery.

CAROL SPAIN, PRINCIPAL: You need to abolish the evil intent behind the word, not necessarily the word.

ANDERSON: As efforts continue to abolish the N-word and the meanings behind it, Merritt and Flowers are the first to admit change doesn't happen overnight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's been embedded for a long time. It's a word that's not just going to just go away right now. We're realists on that. I mean, everything takes time.

ANDERSON: Brooke Anderson, CNN, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ZAHN: So, right now, we're going to put the idea of banning the N-word to tonight's "Out in the Open" panel, attorney Lauren Lake, BET's Keith Boykin, author of "Beyond the Down Low," and radio talk show host and NewsMax.com Steve Malzberg.

Great to have all of you with us tonight.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Lauren, whose fault is it that the N-word is still used as frequently as it is?

LAUREN LAKE, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Oh, I think there's a lot of fault to be had. And I think people need to make some decisions.

I think, a society at large, we are allowing the word to permeate our culture. We're allowing it to pass down.

ZAHN: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: ... white people, right?

LAKE: No, it's not just white people. But white people need to make a decision, too.

You know good and well you don't need to say the word. I don't care if it's in a song lyric. I don't care if it's on a sheet of paper. I don't care if it's on your cue card abbreviated. You don't need to say it.

But black people also need to also make a decision and say, I refuse to say a word that has just demeaned my entire race for centuries. I refuse to say it, and I will not tolerate it in my music, in my culture. And I won't let my own people continue this madness.

ZAHN: All right.

LAKE: So, there are some decisions to be made.

ZAHN: But, Keith, let's be realistic. The hip-hop industry is making gazillions of dollars. And, when you have got Kanye West using the -- the slang version of the N-word six times in "Gold Digger," you have got a big challenge here, no.

KEITH BOYKIN, AUTHOR, "BEYOND THE DOWN LOW": Well, yes. I do think it's a huge challenge right now.

The problem is not just that black people are using it, or the hip-hop artists are using it, but the word has become sort of commodified and acceptable in public discourse now. So, you have people all over the country who are using this word, as though there's nothing wrong with it. ZAHN: Not in my world.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Is it acceptable in your world?

BOYKIN: But I live in Harlem. And I hear people -- every time I walk outside the door, I hear people use the word "nigger," use the N- word.

I'm sorry. I'm not even...

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Oops. You're arrested.

BOYKIN: Right. I know.

But, see, here's the thing. You can't ban the word. It's already out there. The genie is out of the bottle. It's not -- it's something you can't enforce. You can't tell people, you can't use the word. And it's something you absolutely can't ban, because it's unconstitutional.

So, you have to figure out a way to do it. And the best way to do it is education, not legislation.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Freedom of speech is the huge issue here.

STEVE MALZBERG, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: That's right.

ZAHN: And we heard the one woman from Texas argue, where are you going to stop?

MALZBERG: Right.

ZAHN: The F-word, the N-word, where do you draw the line?

MALZBERG: You can't.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: But what can you do...

MALZBERG: Well...

ZAHN: ... that will cause people to think twice before using this word out loud?

MALZBERG: You know what? It's not happening in the white community. If it happens in the white community, if white people are saying it, it's out of hatred; it's out of ignorance. And I think they're far and few between. In the black community, in hip-hop, and at -- you know, in schools and in -- in that kind of culture, it's happening. Now, if it's so offensive, I don't understand how, in any context, it could possibly be used. But I have heard Al Sharpton use it, talking about David Dinkins, the first black mayor of New York City. I have heard Senator Robert Byrd, former KKK member, use it on national TV, talking about white people. He said, he knew white N-words.

So, I mean, it's -- it's crazy.

(CROSSTALK)

LAKE: And I don't think it's few and far between in the white community.

BOYKIN: Right.

LAKE: I really don't think so. I think it's not said publicly, but I think it's said privately.

And, when you have a moment like Michael Richards, you know that it is still on some people's minds. So, it's -- I don't think it's gone in the white community at all.

MALZBERG: But it's more of a problem in the black community.

(CROSSTALK)

BOYKIN: Well, I don't know about that, actually.

LAKE: The problem is, is what black people have done is try to desensitize it. And I don't think that can work.

BOYKIN: I don't necessarily think that it's more of a problem in the black community. I think it's a problem for everyone.

LAKE: Yes.

BOYKIN: And I think, if we just sort of focus on the black community, we miss the point that white people are still racist in this country, not that all of us haven't got issues to deal with.

But the truth is, we still have to deal with racism in the entire society, not just one community.

MALZBERG: Right. But there are black racists, also.

BOYKIN: Well, I don't want to focus all the attention just on black -- on black people in this case.

(CROSSTALK)

LAKE: Well, black people aren't using the N-word because they're racist. Black people are using the N-word because they're ignorant to the effect of what the word...

(CROSSTALK)

MALZBERG: There are a lot of offensive words for all races. Why are we only focusing on the N-word? One of your reports has words about people from -- from China or Asian Americans, people from -- that are Hispanic Americans.

(CROSSTALK)

MALZBERG: These are words that are horrific to them.

LAKE: Which is exactly Keith's point, though, is that you can't legislate it.

MALZBERG: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

LAKE: You have to educate...

(CROSSTALK)

MALZBERG: Right. Sure. Absolutely.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: But there are people who have suggested that this Michael Richards thing really put too much attention on his sin, when they felt that Rosie O'Donnell got away, in their judgment, scot-free when she used an anti-Asian slur.

BOYKIN: Well, I don't think...

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Is there any validity to that argument?

(CROSSTALK)

BOYKIN: I don't think that that's the case.

I think people that tend to misunderstand these things by comparing them, as though they're all similar. The reality is, the N- word has a long and negative history. It's very offensive to a lot of African-Americans, because of the history of slavery and segregation. You can't paper that over.

And I don't mean to demean the use of any other word. But just talk about the word that's being used right now. We don't have to make any comparison.

ZAHN: Hold it, my friends. We're going to come back with a whole lot more for our audience.

Lauren Lake, Keith Boykin, Steve Malzberg, lots more to talk about -- or will -- be called debate, argue, whatever we're going to do. (LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Who knows. Surprise.

What about a word that is deeply offensive to gays? Actor Isaiah Washington was blasted for using it. So, should the F-word be banned? We're going to bring that question out into the open next.

And, then, a little bit later on: a brutal attack at a Quaker college in North Carolina -- football players accused of using brass knuckles and racial epithets in a shocking assault on three Palestinians who they accused of being terrorists.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: There's Abbi Picanti (ph) hard at work back there.

We continue to bring words as weapons into the open tonight, one of them so offensive to some people, I won't say it on air. Call it the other F-word, a six-letter derogatory term for homosexual.

The latest controversy involved "Grey's Anatomy" star Isaiah Washington, accused of using the word to refer to his gay co-star, T.R. Knight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ISAIAH WASHINGTON, ACTOR: No, I did not call T.R. a faggot. Never happened.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: But he later admitted he, in fact, had used the word, and he checked himself in for counseling.

So, does the new F-word pack so much hate, it, too, ought to be banished?

Joe Solmonese has been talking about it on his XM Radio show. He also happens to be president of the Human Rights Campaign to End Discrimination Against Gays.

Thanks so much for joining us.

Joe, do you really think that gays find the F-word as offensive as blacks find the N-word?

JOE SOLMONESE, PRESIDENT, HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN TO END DISCRIMINATION AGAINST GAYS: There's no question that it is just as offensive to members of the gay and lesbian community as the N-word is.

But I -- but I agree with your guests who you had on earlier, Paula, who said that it's not about banning the language. It's about getting to what motivates the language in the first place.

ZAHN: But there are a lot of derogatory terms that are used quite openly toward gays. I hesitate to use them. You -- you hear them every day, homos, queers, queens. What is it about the F-word that is so vile?

SOLMONESE: The F-word, for whatever reason, has become, I think, the hate-laced word that people use on the playground, on the plant floor, when they're really just -- they're using the word almost like a weapon, to spew an invective that -- that is just so damaging to an individual's self-esteem and self-worth. And -- and, for whatever reason, it seems to have become a much more mean-spirited term than any other.

ZAHN: And -- and I guess I'm having trouble understanding that. Is it -- do you think the intent is different than the intent behind those other words, that -- that gays have been subjected to on the playgrounds? What -- I was reading an -- an astonishing statistic, that, what, some 75 percent of gays say they have heard these derogatory terms tossed around.

SOLMONESE: You know, I think the word is less important than the motivation behind it.

And, again, I think the work for us to do is much more about that motivation, getting to the core of what it is that motivates people to use words as weapons. And what I think is interesting about what happened and why it is that we're talking about the F-word is that it started in the workplace, someplace where, you know, probably, T.R. Knight and Isaiah Washington wouldn't have otherwise chosen to be together, except for the fact that they had to be, because they were at work.

And Isaiah Washington has chosen to work in schools to try and combat this, you know, another location where Americans come together every day, not necessarily by design. And, so, I think we have got to go to those places where American people congregate on a daily basis, and get to the core of what it is that motivates this language, regardless of what the word choice might be.

ZAHN: Joe Solmonese, thank you for your time.

We have got to go another place right now. And that is back to our "Out in the Open" panel, Lauren Lake, Keith Boykin, and Steve Malzberg.

Keith, you are gay. You are very happy to share that with our audience.

How often have you heard the F-word?

BOYKIN: Well, I don't actually hear it very often myself, because, you know, being black, first of all, it kind of makes a difference for me, because I think the whole Isaiah Washington issue is as much about race as it is about sexuality. There are a lot of black gay people I know who I have spoken to who don't feel that he should be fired, but who were very troubled by the whole remark that he made. And I think people want to -- want to focus on doing something constructive out of this, but don't necessarily want to -- want to have someone lose his job because of it.

ZAHN: Yes, but, clearly, so many gays were offended by this. And they see it more as an anti-homosexual issue than an anti-black slur.

BOYKIN: No. No, you're right. It's that it's -- not that what he said was an anti-black slur. It's that the reaction to it, some people see as being anti-black, targeting a black person, because this is a person, Isaiah Washington, who I have seen over the course of the past 10 years or so.

The first time I heard about him was in a movie he did called "Get on the Bus" with Spike Lee, where he played an openly gay character. And I have seen him grow and I have seen him evolve. I have seen him where he wrote an article in "Essence" magazine 10 years ago where he condemned homophobia.

So, the Isaiah Washington who was criticizing T.R. Knight, I don't know who that person is. And I'm glad that he's -- he's checked himself into counseling. I'm glad that he's -- he's met with groups who are talking about this. But that's not the Isaiah Washington I have known.

ZAHN: Joe was just saying that the word is less important than the motivation behind it.

If that is true, why is it that some gays have so much comfort using the word towards each other and it's off-limits to the straight community?

LAKE: Well, that -- that's exactly my point.

And that gets back to the black issue as well. I call it kind of the soul food syndrome, where black people are known for making something out of nothing. We have the scraps of everything on the plantation, so, we made chitlins a dish, and now everybody wants to eat them, white people, too.

But we don't want to make the N-word into chitlins. We don't want everybody saying it. And, for gay people, as well, I have heard gay friends of mine talk about, oh, what a queen, or such and such. But -- but you don't want the other person to say it.

And I think that's where it gets problematic, is because it's getting too complicated for people to understand who can say it and who can't. I mean, you know, for black people, Spanish people maybe can say the N-word. They're brown. But Indian people can't say it. They're brown, too. And white people can't say it.

(CROSSTALK) LAKE: It's too complicated.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Is this political correctness run amok?

MALZBERG: Yes. We have a double standard. We have a terrible double standard.

You know why Washington was forced to go to rehab for this, and Rosie wasn't for her anti-Asian remarks...

ZAHN: Why is that?

MALZBERG: ... why Rosie was able to say, you can tell a gay guy because he wants to toss the salad? Or, on "The View," she agreed with when they said gay guys don't keep things in their front pockets because they like to look neat in the front, she went along with that.

Because Rosie is gay. There are gay pressure groups in this country. ABC brags in their latest stockholder brochure that they have a 100 percent rating from the Human Rights Campaign. That's what it is all about.

So, they send this guy Washington, with the threat of his job, to rehab because he said the F-word, despite the fact that he -- he's defended gays in the past. It doesn't matter. It's all political correct nonsense.

(CROSSTALK)

LAKE: ... all about keeping that show...

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Is it about the power of lobbyists?

LAKE: This is about keeping the show on the air and keeping the viewership.

ZAHN: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: I would say it's more about economics than the power of lobbyists.

(CROSSTALK)

LAKE: Let's be honest. This isn't so much about the F-word.

(CROSSTALK)

MALZBERG: Wait. This is a top rated show. You mean, if he doesn't go to rehab, nobody is going to watch?

(CROSSTALK)

LAKE: Well, no. The problem is, is people are going to keep coming up against it. And they don't want that.

(CROSSTALK)

BOYKIN: Well, and it's -- it's not just a question of political correctness.

It's a question of what's right and what's wrong, and who the speaker is. It does make a difference. If I use the N-word or if you use the N-word, there's a real big difference in the way black people will interpret that.

(CROSSTALK)

MALZBERG: But Rosie offended Asians, and she works for ABC.

(CROSSTALK)

MALZBERG: He offended gays. He works for ABC.

(CROSSTALK)

MALZBERG: ... the reaction.

BOYKIN: But will you give me that point, though, right?

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: But Rosie did offer an apology. She did come back on the air...

(CROSSTALK)

MALZBERG: And she said: And I may do it again.

(CROSSTALK)

MALZBERG: She said: I may do it again.

BOYKIN: But she didn't say she would do it purposefully.

LAKE: Exactly my...

(CROSSTALK)

BOYKIN: She said she may make...

(CROSSTALK)

BOYKIN: She may make a mistake again.

(CROSSTALK)

MALZBERG: Oh. Well, what is Washington said: I might do it again by accident?

(CROSSTALK)

LAKE: But, you guys, I think that is the important point, what we talked about.

It's about educating people. I'm going to be very honest. I never knew until this whole fallout. I don't go around using the F- word, but I didn't personally know that it was that offensive. I watched Rosie do that Asian joke. I never thought to myself -- how many times on the schoolyard, or when you're in -- a kid in the school bus, and people are imitating different nationalities, that would be how they did an Asian interpretation, or they do...

ZAHN: So, you weren't offended by it?

LAKE: I -- I -- it went over my head. And here I am. I'm...

MALZBERG: How about...

LAKE: I'm pretty much clued in.

MALZBERG: ... fat kids who are picked on and abused, and kids with glasses, and kids who can't run, and Jews, and Hispanics? Why are we talking N- and F-words?

(CROSSTALK)

BOYKIN: But, Steve...

ZAHN: You get the closing thought. Do it quickly, though.

BOYKIN: But, Steve, what you can't -- you can't forget is that gay people are not only suffering, but young gay people are committing suicide at greater rates than any other -- any other population.

MALZBERG: And that's the fault of the public saying the F-word?

BOYKIN: When -- when young gay kids are being -- are being forced to hear words like that, it has an impact.

(CROSSTALK)

MALZBERG: So, fat kids...

(CROSSTALK)

LAKE: We have to get in the minds of the people.

(CROSSTALK)

MALZBERG: What about fat kids?

BOYKIN: It has an impact.

(CROSSTALK) MALZBERG: What about fat kids?

LAKE: We have to get in people's minds. We can't legislate it.

ZAHN: All right.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: We have got a lot more to cover with you tonight. Please stay with us.

We move next to a shocking assault against Palestinian students at a Quaker college in North Carolina. Was it a racial attack? Reports say those that were hurt were accused of being terrorists.

Also tonight, a police chief accused of racial intolerance by eight of his high-ranking officers -- we will get to that when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: A chilling attack is sending shockwaves across a campus founded on Quaker values of tolerance, and bringing allegations of racism right out into the open.

Today, a sixth football player at Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina, was charged with beating one of three Palestinian students a little more than a week ago. The victims say they were singled out for their Middle Eastern looks.

Dan Lothian has more on the allegations the local Islamic Center calls racism and hatred it has never experienced before.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN BOSTON BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): The Guilford College campus in Greensboro, North Carolina, is a peaceful setting, a Quaker school, proud of its values.

AARON FETROW, DEAN OF CAMPUS LIFE, GUILFORD COLLEGE: Anything violent at Guilford College, really, it runs counter to the Quaker testimonies, to our heritage.

LOTHIAN: Now that's being tested like never before. What's described as a racially-charged fight outside this dorm has led to protests, rallies, and criminal charges.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm hurt. I'm angry about it.

LOTHIAN: According to court documents and a lawyer representing the alleged victims, three Palestinian students, including one visiting from nearby North Carolina State, were taunted and attacked by members of Guilford's football team as they left the dorm.

They say they were called "terrorists" and other racial slurs, and were kicked, pushed, and punched with brass knuckles, suffering concussions and fractures.

SETH COHEN, ATTORNEY FOR ALLEGED VICTIMS: They were minding their own business. It was unprovoked. They didn't want this. They don't want this.

LOTHIAN: One of the alleged victims told a local paper -- quote -- "It was the most horrific experience of my life."

Based only on the complaints, six football players have been charged with assault, five of them also with ethnic intimidation. No one is talking publicly.

But the father of one, Michael Bates, denied the fight was motivated by hate.

TIM BATES, FATHER OF ACCUSED STUDENT: This is not a hate crime. And this -- this is college students that had a -- a ruckus that lasted five minutes.

LOTHIAN: Bates says, the players were provoked by their accuser, and were also victims. He showed pictures of Michael Six, one of the suspects.

BATES: The belt marks, a couple on his neck, the one in the middle of his back, of course, on his sides.

COHEN: Any injuries sustained by any of the attackers would have been in self-defense.

LOTHIAN: The fight has now divided this small college. Deena Zaru, a Palestinian student who knows one of the alleged victims, feels like she's now getting the cold shoulder.

DEENA ZARU, STUDENT: I feel like people that used to -- I used to talk to or say hi to or, "How are you?" that doesn't happen anymore with some of them. And they're a lot more distant.

LOTHIAN: Some of the 1,400 students on campus held a rally against hate. Then came a walkout to protest what some describe as the school's slow response, an attempt to cover up something so ugly, a claim officials deny.

FETROW: We will be loyal to our process. This is a process that we use in any case that involves an altercation, any case with facts in dispute.

LOTHIAN (on camera): College officials say they are conducting their own internal investigation. An, while they won't give any details about what they have found so far, they say it is too early to conclude that what happened here was a hate crime.

(voice-over): Despite that, some in the Muslim community believe the fight is, at the very least, a symptom of a bigger problem. In a statement, the head of that area's Islamic Center says, "This was not just an attack on Palestinians. To too many Americans, the words "Middle Eastern," "Muslim" and "terrorist" are synonymous. Across campus, there are now anti-hate signs on paper and sidewalks sending a strong message of tolerance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We feel we can use this to bring the community together, stop some of the divisions that are happening.

LOTHIAN: A Quaker school, proud of its nonviolent heritage, trying to heal, even as the legal process creates a loud distraction.

Dan Lothian, CNN, Greensboro, North Carolina.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And there's another thing to add. The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division is looking into the possibility of whether a federal hate crime may have been committed at Guilford.

The next story we're bringing out in the open, a California police chief under fire. Is he a racist or are eight of his officers lying?

And a little bit later on, why former supermodel Tyra Banks is outraged at tabloid stories that say she is fat.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: We are bringing words as weapons out in the open tonight. I'm talking about slurs used to express hatred of any group. And I want to warn you, you're about to hear one in this next report.

Accusations of bigotry are causing a huge uproar in a northern California police department with a long history of racial tension. Several high-ranking black officers say the department's chief is creating a climate of intolerance and using offensive, racially- charged words.

Ted Rowlands has that story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): When it comes to crime, Richmond, California, is one of the worst cities in the state. In 2005, according to the FBI, Richmond had the state's second highest murder rate per capita. The northern California city also has a history of problems with police force racism, which is the subject of Richmond's latest dilemma.

Either these eight longtime cops, three captains, four lieutenants, and a sergeant, are lying, or this newly-hired police chief is guilty of what seems to be outrageous examples of racism.

CHRIS MAGNUS, RICHMOND POLICE CHIEF: I don't engage in racial- based joking. I've heard some of that in this organization. Some of that has actually come from the individuals who are involved in this lawsuit. ROWLANDS: Police chief Chris Magnus is accused of telling racial jokes in front of black officers and using racial bias in hiring. Magnus, who has more than 25 years of law enforcement experience, came to Richmond last year from Fargo, North Dakota.

The trouble began after he hired two assistant chiefs, one of them actually a minority, a Latino man, and the other a Caucasian woman. But several African-Americans were passed over, and now the eight black officers are claiming that the new chief is a racist. One officer claims in a written complaint that Magnus has used racial slurs during his short time on the job, including the word "jigaboo" while telling jokes.

(on camera): An independent investigation has been launched to try to figure out if this is a case of discrimination or if it's just a case of sour grapes.

CHRISTOPHER DOLAN, ATTORNEY: The allegations are not sour grapes here.

ROWLANDS (voice over): Christopher Dolan is an attorney hired by the black officers. He says given their experience and rank, if they say the chief is a racist they should be taken seriously.

DOLAN: Racism is alive and well in America. We have not put the racism issue to rest, period.

ROWLANDS: Ken Nelson heads the NAACP chapter in Richmond. He says he knows the officers that filed the complaint and, given their experience, says it's hard to believe that they would lie about something this serious.

KEN NELSON, NAACP: Any time anyone speaks out against racism of this magnitude, it has to be serious, taken seriously. And I believe it's -- you know, it is sincere.

ROWLANDS: As a Richmond city councilman, Tom Butt helped hire Chief Magnus. He doesn't think the allegations are true.

TOM BUTT, RICHMOND CITY COUNCILMAN: Because I haven't seen any indication that he's that kind of person.

ROWLANDS: Neither do the people we talked to who used to work with Magnus back in North Dakota.

KEITH TERNES, FARGO, NORTH DAKOTA POLICE CHIEF: And I really think that the allegations are most likely based on resistance to some of the ideas and some of the change that Chris is trying to implement there.

ROWLANDS: Chief Magnus has denied the accusations. Because of the investigation, neither the officers nor the chief would agree to an interview with CNN. The officers, who are still working, are expected to file a lawsuit against the city some time next month.

BUTT: Regardless of how this turns out, nobody is going to win. It's not -- it's not a good thing for this city.

ROWLANDS: Ted Rowlands, CNN, Richmond, California.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Let's see what our panel has to say about this.

Joining me once again, Lauren Lake, Keith Boykin, Steve Malzberg.

So, Steve, do these black police officers have a case, or are they overreacting?

STEVE MALZBERG, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I don't see any way we could know that. I mean, he denies it. They say he did it. The people that he worked with in the past say they never saw any indication. The people in charge here say they don't believe it.

It's their word against his. So we have to wait.

Nobody is cooperating with any investigation as far as coming forward -- the cops or the man who is accused. It's very easy to cry racism. If he did it, it's going to be found out. If he didn't, then an injustice is being perpetrated against him.

ZAHN: We talked about a bunch of words here tonight that none of us should say, the "N" word, the "F" word, now the "J" word.

How incendiary is that? Frankly, a word that I have personally word in 20 years.

KEITH BOYKIN, AUTHOR, "BEYOND THE DOWN LOW": Well, the last time I remember hearing...

ZAHN: And I'm really old.

BOYKIN: I remember hearing the word actually in a Spike Lee film, "School Daze," back in the day. And he used it to show how black people sometimes use negative words against ourselves.

And it's a negative word, just like the "N" word is. It's something we should be concerned about.

And I kind of agree with what Steve was saying, too, that we don't necessarily know what happened here. But I don't necessarily agree that it's going to be found out if there was a racist incident here, because a lot of times racism today is very underneath the surface. We don't necessarily find out about it because people are much more clever about how to disguise it than they were in the past.

ZAHN: And there are critics of these black police officers saying, what the heck are you filing a suit for? All this does is continue to promote the chronic victimization of blacks.

LAUREN LAKE, ATTORNEY: Oh, you know what, Paula? As a defense attorney I go on shows constantly. And when I defend the alleged perpetrator, all I get was, "Don't blame the victim. Don't blame the victim."

Now suddenly people want to blame the alleged victim in this case. No, these men could possibly be victims of their police chief's racist beliefs. If he is a racist, if he is saying the "J" word, if he is having black police officers dance at police functions, OK, like minstrels, that's a problem.

And his views could directly reflect the ways in which he promotes in his own office. And...

MALZBERG: If -- if, and we showed with the Duke case...

LAKE: And you heard me say the word "if." You heard me say the word "if."

MALZBERG: Jesse Jackson...

LAKE: But if it is true -- I'll use "if" again, then he needs to be removed.

MALZBERG: Of course if it's true.

LAKE: "J" word and all.

MALZBERG: If it's true. And the "J" word aside, if he did everything else, it doesn't matter. But...

LAKE: And we need to know.

MALZBERG: ... Jesse Jackson came running down to Duke, gave the woman -- "The Rainbow Coalition is paying for her college education." I haven't heard him take it back yet even though she appears she made up the rape because now she doesn't -- we know what's going on there.

It's so easy to claim racism. We don't know who is telling the truth.

BOYKIN: But here's the problem, though. I don't know what's happening with the Duke case because that's still under investigation. But the reality is, sometimes things get out of control and people make false accusations. But a lot of times people make accurate accusations. And the few times when people make a false accusation, people use that as an excuse to justify all kinds of other racism that they claim doesn't exist.

LAKE: Right.

ZAHN: So we do know in this case what the truth is.

LAKE: Exactly.

ZAHN: But we do know that it is common for blacks to be passed over for promotions.

LAKE: Absolutely. And just like was already said, it's very hard to prove. Institutional racism, it's almost impossible to prove. It's like this evil lurking ghost. And you end up looking like the boy or girl that cried wolf. And everyone is looking at you like, oh, nothing's wrong with you until -- it doesn't come out in the wash, but in the dry, then you see. Oh, and then they go, oh, maybe she had a point there.

And that's what we don't want to happen, by underestimating these police officers claims...

MALZBERG: Every time someone is passed over a promotion...

LAKE: ... before there has been a thorough investigation.

MALZBERG: ... doesn't mean it's racist.

BOYKIN: Of course not. But...

LAKE: And just to correct you on this point, the Duke girl wasn't claiming racism. The Duke girl claimed she was rape.

MALZBERG: But the whole -- the media...

LAKE: The racist aspect became our discussion of the case.

MALZBERG: ... and Jesse Jackson. Right. Right.

LAKE: So, therefore, you can't say that -- she alleged she was raped.

MALZBERG: Nifong made it because of race, Jackson made it into race, the community made it into race.

LAKE: But my point is, is that victim, whether her claim was wrong or her whole case...

MALZBERG: She might have seen three rich boys and wanted to get money from them. Don't say it wasn't about race.

LAKE: And they might have seen one beautiful black girl and touched her the wrong way, but we don't know because there hasn't been a case. And I was a...

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: We're getting off on a tangent here. A tangent here. Hang on, hang on.

A final thought about this case some northern California. It's got to be brief.

BOYKIN: It always disturbs me when people say that there's no racism or that racism...

MALZBERG: I never said that.

ZAHN: No. He said we're not sure. It hasn't been proven.

BOYKIN: It always disturbs me when people try to challenge that because the reality is we live in a racist, sexist, (INAUDIBLE) homophobic...

MALZBERG: Black racists and white racists, yes.

LAKE: And the black racism is the result of 400 years of your racism and your privileges that you still have today. Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

LAKE: No, you have what your ancestors had...

MALZBERG: My ancestors came from Europe...

(CROSSTALK)

LAKE: And they came here willingly and they came here voluntarily. But ours did not.

ZAHN: Final word.

BOYKIN: And the thing is, you can't do anything about it until you acknowledge that there's a problem.

MALZBERG: Sure, there's a problem.

LAKE: There we go. And that's the good last word, is that you know there's a problem.

ZAHN: I think we're starting to at least raise awareness. And maybe it will go a small distance toward solving this problem...

BOYKIN: Let's hope so.

ZAHN: ... as long as we're talking about it.

LAKE: Yes.

ZAHN: Lauren, Keith and Steve, thank you. Glad to have you with us for the hour tonight.

LAKE: Thank you.

BOYKIN: Thank you.

ZAHN: Will you come back some time and play with me?

Oh, good. Yes. Come play in my playground.

Coming up next, she is one of the most beautiful women in the world. So why is Tyra Banks upset about being labeled "fat"?

We'll bring that story out in the open next.

Oh, Steve is shaking his head. What is she talking about? Do you think she's promoting her show?

A little bit later on, we're going to turn our attention to America's war heroes and a new $50 million center to help the wounded recover.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Tonight, a one-time supermodel who launched millions of fantasies is bringing intolerance about fat out in the open. Tyra Banks earned fame and fortune when she had the sleek, statuesque figure of a model -- a typical model. Now, 30 pounds heavier, she's enraged about a picture that caught her off guard and had tabloid headlines calling her "fat".

Here's entertainment correspondent Sibila Vargas.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SIBILA VARGAS, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tyra Banks scantily clad is hardly headline news. This is, after all, the angelic cat walker whose 5'10" body sold lingerie and bikinis for more than a decade, who for two years in a row fronted "Sports Illustrated's" hallowed "Swimsuit Issue".

But last month, paparazzi in Australia snapped these less-than- flattering pictures of Banks in a one-piece swimsuit. And the former cover girl found herself in the middle of a big, fat scandal.

Tabloids ranging from "Star" magazine to "National Enquirer" printed the pictures and dubbed her "America's Next Top Waddle." But Banks, who currently hosts TV's "America's Next Top Model" and "The Tyra Banks Show," fired back with a cover story in this week's "People" magazine in which she said, "... it was such a strange meanness and rejoicing that people had when thinking that was what my body looked like."

Banks also accused tabloids of distorting her weight gain.

GALINA ESPINOZA, "PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: The tabloids had said that she was near 200 pounds. She told "People" magazine that she's 161 pounds and that since retiring from modeling in 2005, her weight has gone up and down, like it does for a lot of women. She's fluctuated between about 148 and 162.

TYRA BANKS, TALK SHOW HOST: Now here what I have to say.

VARGAS: And this Thursday on her show Tyra Banks sets the record straight.

BANKS: And today I weigh 160 pounds. So that is 10 pounds that I have gained, not 40.

VARGAS: In that prerecorded episode she attempts to debunk her own weight rumors and also looks at eating disorders among models and body image. It's something Banks has done before for her program, even devoting a show in 2005 to disguising herself in a fat suit.

BANKS (voice over): As I walked through the store, I felt the cold stares.

VARGAS: I talked with her then.

(on camera): You said it was a heartbreaking experience.

BANKS: You're going to make me tear up. It just was heartbreaking because it was so in your face.

VARGAS (voice over): Though far from 300 pounds she wore in her TV disguise, Tyra herself now feels the similar pain of ridicule, despite her weight falling well within healthy guidelines for a woman of her height, 132 to 167 pounds, according to the American Dietetic Association.

BANKS: You guys, I eat on this show. I eat all the time. I talk about how much I love to eat. And I gain weight and I lose weight constantly, just like everybody else.

VARGAS: And she says everybody else has to get used to seeing pictures of a formerly 126-pound supermodel happy with her healthy, normal weight.

Sibila Vargas, CNN, Hollywood.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: At the top of the hour, Larry King is going to spend the whole hour with Tyra Banks, making every man in America jealous of him tonight. He's here now with a look ahead.

Hi, Larry.

LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Hi. This is a fascinating story.

You know, when you hear 160 pounds, that sounds heavy, you k now, off the top. If a woman's going to weigh -- what do you weigh, Paula?

ZAHN: Do you think I'm going to expose that on television?

KING: Well, come on. You're -- I would.

ZAHN: Let me ask you this. Would you ever -- your wife -- your wife -- I'm tall.

KING: If I looked like you...

ZAHN: Oh, you're so kind. Your wife probably is three inches or four inches taller than me. You would never expose her weight on TV, would you?

KING: I don't know what she weighs because she wouldn't tell me what she weighs, but... ZAHN: Exactly.

KING: But she don't -- but what I mean -- OK. What I mean is, this whole Tyra Banks story is, I don't get the picture. We'll ask her about it. She'll be here in a couple minutes.

Were the pictures blown-up pictures, were they false pictures? Were they not true pictures? Were they pictures that masked what she really looked like? Because the "People" magazine cover is ideal, but on this "People" magazine cover that don't look like 160 to me.

But if she says 160, that's fine.

ZAHN: No. Well, what do you mean it doesn't look like 160? I thought she looked terrific.

KING: I would say this looks 140.

ZAHN: Yes. See?

KING: that's what I mean.

ZAHN: And, you know, the thing that strikes me, no matter how upset she is about the tabloids, the fact is she's getting a lot of attention. And this is great for both of her shows, no?

It also gives her an opportunity to express a very positive image to young women who see these pictures of impossibly thin women on glossy magazines to say, like she just did on her show, look, our weight swings. Yes, if you'd ask me a month ago, I would have given you an entirely different number than I would give you tonight.

KING: Good point. Why, Paula -- and you're a beautiful woman, Paula. Why would a beautiful woman who, let's say, is 56 years old and she's gorgeous, why would she be afraid to say that? Or why would she be afraid to say I weigh 132 pounds?

Why?

ZAHN: You know, you've got to ask me in a bunch of years when I get to 56. And then I'll come clean. I'll be totally honest with you.

No, you're right, we're hung up on all of those numbers. They're meaningless. Tyra Banks is exquisite.

Have fun with her tonight, Larry.

KING: Thanks. Thanks, honey.

ZAHN: See you at the top of the hour.

Coming up, we're going to move next to what's being done for America's war wounded and the opening today of a $50 million center for the thousands of troops injured in Iraq.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Tonight we shine a light on some of the heroes of the Iraq war, the thousands of soldiers and Marines severely injured in the line of duty. Now there is an incredible new facility available to help them recover -- a one-of-a kind, privately funded, high-tech rehabilitation center that opened today in San Antonio. And Anderson Cooper will have an in-depth look at the center and his special tonight on "AC 360."

He joins me now from San Antonio.

I have seen some of the pictures you fed back today. What a remarkable place.

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": Yes. It's a remarkable place, and it was an extraordinary day here in San Antonio.

Hundreds of wounded vets and their family members, as well as dignitaries, were on hand for the grand opening of the really, truly state-of-the-art rehabilitation center. All of it, Paula, built with private donations, donations large and small -- school kids giving a few dollars, corporations giving millions of dollars. It took about $50 million to actually build this center, but it is -- there's nothing like it in the country, if not in the world, for service members.

Hillary Clinton was on hand, as well as Senator John McCain. I had a chance to speak to both of them. Iraq was on very much on both of their minds, of course, today, visiting the center. So many of these wounded troops coming straight from Iraq.

I talked to Senator Clinton about Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, and whether she, in fact, trusts him at all.

Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Vice President Cheney said last week to Wolf Blitzer he trusts al-Maliki.

Do you?

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: No. But I also don't trust Vice President Cheney. So I think it's really fair to say that his assessments have been wrong consistently.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: I also talked to Senator John McCain and asked him the same question. He said he continues to be disappointed by Prime Minister al-Maliki and will be taking a look and will probably have a sense, he says, in the next several months as to whether or not al- Maliki is living up to the promises, the political promises made by the Iraqi government -- Paula. ZAHN: And moving now to the political realm, Anderson, to more of the human reaction to the center today from vets themselves, what did you hear from them?

COOPER: You know, it was -- it was just an extraordinary moment when a lot of these wounded heroes came out on the stage and some of them were walking on prosthetic limbs, others were in wheelchairs, some of them were very badly burned. You get a real sense of the cost of this war, sometimes the hidden cost of this war. More than 20,000 Americans, of course, have been wounded in this war so far. For a lot of them to have a center like this, it was really -- it was an emotional day and a day I think they've been waiting for, for a long time -- Paul.

ZAHN: Anderson, thanks so much. We'll look forward to seeing the rest of your report tonight, "The Toughest Battle: Healing Heroes," tonight on "AC 360" at 10:00.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: And that wraps it up for all of us here tonight. Thanks so much for joining us.

Tomorrow night, are schools risking being intolerant of overweight kids by issuing obesity report cards? It's the latest controversial step more than a dozen states are considering all over the country. We're going to show you why so many parents are outraged.

Thanks for joining us. Good night.

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