House arrest is the right amount of justice for the Dunkin’ manager who threw a fatal punch after being called the N-word 

OPINION: The justice system took seriously the idea that violence after the use of the ‘most aggressive and inflammatory' racial slur is understandable and excusable to a certain extent.

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Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

If you’re on social media, you know that white people still use the N-word—the original one. We’ve seen videos of this in convenience stores, restaurants, bars, parking lots and malls. I think white people should know that if they use the N-word, they are putting their lives at risk. After that, anything could happen. In the many online videos, sometimes Black people just talk back, but sometimes they fight back. I feel a deep sense of catharsis when I see a brother punch a white man in the face after the N-word flies from his mouth. It just feels good to watch that. I think of all of our ancestors who had to bear the burden of hearing that word and not responding, and I hope they’re watching in heaven and cheering. 

Perhaps the king of all mess-around-and-find-out stories came out of Tampa, Fla., last year—a 77-year-old white man, Vonelle Cook, went to a Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru, but the conversation with the person taking his order went astray, and things got contentious. Cook was asked to leave. Instead, he parked and went inside the store.

No one in the store knew who Cook was, but local police knew Cook. He was a serial pedophile. He had filmed himself raping a teenage boy. He was known for luring boys to his home. So this monster went into Dunkin’ Donuts to complain and got into an argument with the manager, Corey Pujols. Cook called Pujols the N-word. Pujols warned him not to say it again. Cook did. Pujols knocked him out. I’m not saying I would’ve done it, but I understand. I’m not a violent person, but calling someone the N-word is a violent act and a deeply triggering event. If you call me the N-word, I cannot promise you nothing violent will happen. The thing is, Cook fell back and hit his head and later died.

Corey Pujols (left), a Florida Dunkin’ employee, got a sentence of two years house arrest for punching Vonelle Cook (right), who called him the N-word. Cook died after hitting his head on the floor. (Photos: Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and Florida Department of Law Enforcement)

At that point, I thought Pujols was going to prison for a long time. And I thought that would be a shame because if there were true justice in America, if there were respect for the history of race in America, then the justice system would understand that saying the N-word is an act of violence and what happens after that is self-defense. I don’t think there should be many words that legalize assault, but the N-word has a unique place in American society, and the law really should not protect people who say it from retribution. 

Well, sometimes there is justice in America—Pujols was sentenced to two years of house arrest. The local district attorney said this “holds the defendant accountable while considering the totality of the circumstances—the aggressive approach and despicable racial slur used by the victim, along with the defendant’s age, lack of criminal record, and lack of intent to cause the victim’s death.” 

He continued, “It would be hard to convince a jury that a person’s not allowed to hit someone who instigated a confrontation by storming into their business and barking the most aggressive and inflammatory term in the English language in their face.” 

So the justice system took seriously the idea that violence after the use of the N-word is understandable and excusable to a certain extent. Court cases are often meant to send a message—let this one send a message to white people far and wide that calling someone the N-word could lead to grave consequences for you; some prosecutors may be understanding. Wow, we truly are our ancestors’ wildest dream when we live in a world where Black violence against a white man is excused because of the N-word. 


Touré is the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is also the author of seven books.

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