Michigan township treasurer under fire for referring to financial officer who is Black as "boy"

Some residents of a Michigan community are calling for its treasurer to resign after she acknowledged referring to a Black official as a "boy."

A small group of people protested Thursday outside Mount Morris Township offices near Flint and 78 miles (125 kilometers) northwest of Detroit, MLive-The Flint Journal reported.

Treasurer Gayle Armstrong told the newspaper she called township Chief Financial Officer Greg Eason a "boy" during a conversation with township Supervisor Jolena Sims, according to the newspaper.

The word "boy," when referring to Black men is considered derogatory. Armstrong, who is white, said it wasn’t meant as a racial slur.

During an Oct. 11 township board meeting, Armstrong acknowledged using "boy" in reference to Eason. Armstrong said then that the comment reflected the way Sims uses Eason to carry out her directives and how Sims, who also is Black, treats him.

"I am not a racist," Armstrong said during the board meeting. "I have Blacks in my family. My deputy treasurer is Black. She’s the finest person that ever walked."

But that hasn’t swayed the more than dozen people protesting Thursday.

"As the people of this township and supporters of this township we have to send a message … You work for the people … You don’t own us," said Catherine Oliver, who helped to promote the protest.

The name-calling cannot be excused, said Sheldon Banks, another township resident.

"I believe someone called Mr. Eason a boy and the thing that upsets me the most is, he has a name," Banks said during the protest. "Why can’t he just be called by his name?"

Armstrong accused Eason earlier this year of swinging his walking cane at her, but the allegation wasn’t supported by township video surveillance or a police investigation, the newspaper reported.

Eason filed a defamation lawsuit last month in Genesee County Circuit Court against the township, Armstrong and Clerk Brenda Ashley, who also is white. The lawsuit alleges that false statements about the cane swinging were designed to tarnish his reputation and caused him humiliation and embarrassment.

Ashley could not be reached for comment, the newspaper said.

Armstrong wrote in an email to the newspaper that she can’t share any details due to the pending litigation.