Sorry about the snacks
Just think of all the ways a man might use a banana to offend a woman.
Then you may imagine why some people leaped to the wrong conclusion when a woman complained about a Columbus police officer eating a banana at the Civic Center as people gathered for a Jan. 15 civil rights march.
The woman was deeply offended, she told police. The police were deeply bewildered.
The offense was not what you might imagine it to be. I imagined the officer shoving the banana into his pants pocket to make others point at it and say, "Hey, is that a banana in your pocket or are you just glad to be here getting paid overtime?"
But that was not what offended the woman, who hung up on people who couldn't figure it out.
Then she called Mayor Bob Poydasheff. He said she just started berating him about the police. He told her he'd heard only compliments about how officers handled the weekend march in which the Rev. Jesse Jackson and other longtime civil rights activists led 8,000 people from the Civic Center to the Government Center.
"She said, 'No no no no, when the buses pulled into the Civic Center, I saw a policeman eating a banana.' And I didn't know what to say," Poydasheff recalled. "I was stunned. I said, 'What's wrong with that? Police were on their feet for eight hours. They had to get potassium in their system.'"
He said the woman told him the banana "was an affront to me and to others, including a former state senator." She wouldn't name the senator.
Why was she offended?
Well, it seems that in the context of the march, she took the officer's banana eating to imply an analogous racial slur relating black people to apes.
Such a comparison would not be uncommon in the parlance of racist propaganda, particularly in the old days. But these days that kind of talk is pretty rare -- and pretty obvious, too, when someone really means it.
So as racial slurs go, simply eating a banana now has to be considered rather subtle, for this particular area.
The mayor told the woman he'd check it out. And he did, and he learned that while police were working security at the march, the department sent around a snack van to give officers something to eat, and in fact bananas were among the snacks offered, and some officers did eat bananas.
So he called the woman back and explained all this, and added an apology. "I'm sorry you were offended, and let me apologize to you personally," he told her.
"Well, send it in writing," she told him.
So he did. Call it "The Banana Apology."
Dated Jan. 22, it says: "As I said in our telephone conversation, I am sorry you found Columbus police officers eating bananas on the street when you arrived in Columbus for the protest. Let me assure you there was no intent to offend. The officers needed some nutrition after standing long hours on the street and they particularly needed the potassium available in bananas and some other fruits."
Later the mayor writes: "There was no thought of insulting or offending anyone and perhaps this was thoughtless on our part. In any case, let me offer my sincere apology for anything our officers may have done that gave offense to you or anyone else."
Did this satisfy the woman?
"I haven't heard from her," Poydasheff said Thursday. "And quite candidly, I don't care. Our officers did no wrong."
The woman may never have seen the letter, because the address apparently is wrong. The address on the letter is for "Towers Ferry Road" in Marietta, with a 30039 ZIP code. That code is for Snellville.
I found a business on Powers Ferry Road in Atlanta that otherwise matched the address, with a 30339 ZIP. I called that company, and a worker told me a woman with the name to which the letter's addressed does work there. But that woman never called me back, and I don't want to publish the name if I can't confirm it.
If the correct woman does get The Banana Apology, she'll see the mayor writes: "I want to assure you, as I did in our telephone conversation, that any offense was entirely unintentional and I guarantee you it won't happen again."
Or maybe it will. Does the city plan to deny officers bananas during public events?
"Absolutely not," the mayor said. "They can eat all the bananas they want."
No doubt some hard-core racists still would use a fruit or a cracker to offend someone, if they got the chance.
But sometimes a banana is only a banana.