Edmonton police are apologizing for using a racially-charged term to describe a missing teenager in an Amber Alert.
The Amber Alert, which was broadcast across the Edmonton area Friday afternoon, described the forcible abduction of a 14-year-old female “mulatto.”
Shama Rangwala, an English instructor at the University of Alberta, called the term “racist.”
“Mulatto is not a term that we use anymore,” Rangwala told CTV Edmonton. “It is a term that came from slavery times. The etymology, most lexicographers agree, comes from the term ‘mule’ so it’s deliberately dehumanizing and seeing that word in 2018 was kind of a shock.”
According to the Oxford Dictionary, “mulatto” is a “dated” and “offensive” term that first appeared in English in the Sixteenth century. Derived from Spanish and used to describe a “person of mixed white and black ancestry, especially a person with one white and one black parent,” it is thought that the term relates to the mixed parentage of mules, which are the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse.
The use of “mulatto,” was also troubling, Rangwala said, because it its uncommonness would make it unclear to many people. Rangwala said that police would have been much better off using a term like “mixed-race” or simply describing the teen’s skin tone as “medium brown.”
The teenager was found safe less than an hour after the alert was issued. Her alleged captor, a 47-year-old male, is now in police custody.
Speaking to reporters, Edmonton Police Insp. Ray Akbar said the controversial word was what was used by the “peers of the victim” who witnessed the alleged abduction.
“That was the information that was conveyed to us under some very exigent circumstances,” he said. “It was time-sensitive to get that information out to the Amber Alert and that’s why that term was used.”
An Edmonton police spokesperson has since apologized.
“(T)he (Edmonton Police Service) regrets that it has offended anyone in the community and it wasn’t our intent in any way to be culturally insensitive or disrespectful,” they said in an email to CTV Edmonton. “We would like to reassure everyone that we have reviewed the unfiltered description through our Equity Diversity & Human Rights Section and moving forward, the EPS will ensure that emergency messaging will reflect what we foster — respect and dignity for all.”
With a report from CTV Edmonton’s Sarah Plowman
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