Bob Herbert in the New York Times (sadly, behind a firewall) has a story about words as weapons:
Just days after Don Imus was taken off the air for a slur hurled at members of the Rutgers women's basketball team, a police sergeant conducting a roll call at a precinct in Brooklyn is reported to have called the three female officers in the room "hos" as he gave them an order to stand up.
The women, two of whom are black and one a Latina, refused to stand.
Another officer, unable to resist the great "fun" of mocking his female colleagues, is reported to have called out, "No, sergeant, not just hos, but nappy-headed hos."
The women said they were stunned almost to the point of disbelief by the comments. They were the only women in the gathering of 17 police officers in the room, including the supervising sergeant. There was a sickening quality to the moment. The women said they felt violated, hurt and humiliated.
The three women in the 70th Precinct case have decided to fight back. Their initial complaint to Sergeant Mateo, immediately after the roll call, was brushed aside, they said. They then complained to the precinct's integrity control officer and hired a lawyer, Bonita Zelman.
This morning they will file a complaint in federal court, asserting that the degrading comments at the roll call amounted to illegal discrimination against them based on their gender and ethnic background. This is not a small matter. It's fair to wonder, for example, how eager a supervisor might be to recommend a major promotion for an employee he refers to as a "ho."
"We have tremendous concern about the effect of language like this on women police officers," said Ms. Zelman, "particularly women of color trying to make their way in the largely white male bureaucracy of a police department."
Imagine yourself in the shoes of one of those three women. You are sitting there with your colleagues, all professional and on the job. And then your superior calls you a ho. You haven't done anything wrong, you just happen to be a woman officer.
But despite what Ms. Zelman says, this isn't really about language. It is something deeper. It is about how Sergeant Mateo sees these female police officers (apart from the rest of the officers) and what lies behind the language he chose to use (disrespect).