Southern Brooklyn

Op-Ed: Cops’ Facebook Comments Went Beyond Limits of Free Speech

The contentious relationship between cops and West Indian Day Parade revelers is spotlighted in a series offensive Facebook remarks made by a number of the officers. Source:

BETWEEN THE LINESWith the 45th West Indian Day Parade only days away, the New York City Police Department last week disciplined a group of officers for posting racist comments about revelers following last year’s celebration.

The NYPD said, after more than 150 comments were examined, it identified 17 employees who wrote offensive remarks, in addition to complaints that degraded and maligned paradegoers.

The comments were posted on a Facebook page titled, “No More West Indian Day Detail.” However, police officials may not have been learned about it until lawyers representing a man caught with a gun at the parade apparently went to The New York Times. The page was subsequently deleted.

The punishment follows months of investigation, which had been promised by Commissioner Ray Kelly, after The New York Times first reported last December about the comments posted on the social network in the days after the 2001 parade.

Police spokesman Paul Browne recently told the Times that four officers face departmental trials on charges of “conduct prejudicial to the good order of the police department.”

Six other officers received command disciplines, which may entail the loss of vacation days, with the remaining seven receiving “letters of instruction,” which is equivalent to a reprimand.

The probe matched some comments, which included references to revelers as ‘savages’ and ‘animals,’ with the names of current police officers.

Last December, the Huffington Post published some of the Facebook postings:

  • One compared working the detail to “ghetto training.”
  • Another suggested holding the event at “the zoo.”
  • Other postings included: “The safety of cops should be more important that the safety of the animals.”
  • “It’s not racist if it’s true.”
  • “…if the cops sneeze too loud they get investigated for excessive force, but the ‘civilians’ can run around like savages and there are no repercussions.”
  • “Why is everyone calling this a parade? It’s a scheduled riot.”
  • “I say have the parade one more year, and when they all gather drop a bomb and wipe them all out.”

The same article noted that, on a message board for police officers, NYPD Rant, some cops supported their colleague’s feelings. One read: “For the record, most of the participants at the West Indies Day Parade are fucking savages who walked out from the jungle 2 minutes ago.”

The annual Labor Day parade has become the city’s biggest cultural festival since it was first held in Brooklyn in 1969. It traverses the streets of Crown Heights, along Eastern Parkway, and typically attracts millions of revelers to celebrate the diverse cultures of the Caribbean islands and features dancers dressed in enormous feathered costumes, lively music and a bounty of West Indian fare.

While the parade is renowned for its festive tone, it is heavily policed and has, since 2003, been marred by more than a few incidents of violence, including several murders, shootings and stabbings. Last year seemed to be the notably violent, with three shooting deaths and two police officers wounded in an exchange of gunfire with the shooters. Media accounts said police seized 14 guns during the celebration the night before the parade.

Whatever punishment is meted to the offending officers should also include several hours of mandatory sensitivity training, since these public servants obviously don’t know how to be civil.

On or off duty, police officers are not only bound by an oath to uphold the law, but also an implicit obligation of courtesy, professionalism and respect (CPR) to honor the badge. Though the First Amendment guarantees the right to speak freely, any cop, with a degree of common sense, should realize they have a larger responsibility to keep bigoted opinions, especially about those they serve, private, because in our glass bowl-culture, most offensive comments will probably come back to bite them in the ass — particularly when such remarks damage the already fragile relationship police generally have with some minority communities.

Perhaps next time, the NYPD acronym CPR will come to mind before an off duty cop shoots off his/her mouth and they’ll keep any ignorant rants to themselves.

Neil S. Friedman is a veteran reporter and photographer, and spent 15 years as an editor for a Brooklyn weekly newspaper. He also did public relations work for Showtime, The Rolling Stones and Michael Jackson. Friedman contributes a weekly column called “Between the Lines” on life, culture and politics in Sheepshead Bay.

Disclaimer: The above is an opinion column and may not represent the thoughts or position of Sheepshead Bites. Based upon their expertise in their respective fields, our columnists are responsible for fact-checking their own work, and their submissions are edited only for length, grammar and clarity. If you would like to submit an opinion piece or become a regularly featured contributor, please e-mail nberke [at] sheepsheadbites [dot] com.

Comment policy


  1. Truth hurts. No cops should be assigned to this parade. Let them all kill one another, which they try to do en masse every year. But that goes unnoticed and unreported. Cops are ordered to “ignore recreational gunfire” over the air. Print that in the daily news. 

  2. TRUTH:  like the cops who posted those offensive comments Jim, you should keep your ignorant racism to yourself

  3. I was on the job for 25 years. There were MANY laws and parades etc. that I found personally objectable. You never would have know it because I did what I took an oath to do. We talked about our objections after a tour of duty, usually a…t an establishment serving adult beverages. The kids they are hiring today lack the skills and ability to do this job with a professional demeanor. A good cop is like a good umpire at a baseball game. You shouldn’t notice them.  I will agree with Jim in part, we were told to ignore certain use of narcotics, alcohol and unruly behavior at the West Indian Day Parade, but we were ordered to search for and confiscate beet at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.  Fair? NO.  But I did what I was told at each parade.

  4. As offensive and ill-advised as the remarks may be, I still believe in the right to freedom of expression.  And a case can be made that letting off steam in that way may just help the officers working in difficult situations.  It is a sad state of affairs when a teacher is fired, as in the Christine Rubino case, by merely showing (and then deleting) her frustrations on a private facebook page. As a journalist, you of all people should be defending the right of individuals to express themselves in a free society and on a totally harmless forum.

  5. Unfortunately comments of that type are not made in a vacuum and some let their personal feelings about certain ethnic groups spill over into their Jobs…  better to make these comments when you are in a PRIVATE situation of just your friends… Facebook is a PUBLIC forum and comments of this type make an uneasy situation WORSE for all concerned, including the Cops. 

  6. i agree. freedom of speech is where it is at. so these comments were posted by the police, but was it on an official police page? if it was official, then this is out of line. If it was a personal page then this is just another step towards a fascist state where you cant say anything people do not agree with.

  7. Dont smoke this dont drink that dont say that. If you would like i will personally buy you a one way ticket to North Korea. 

  8. Were these cops fired?  Were these cops arrested?  Just how was their “freedom of speech” curtailed?  You have freedom of speech, what you do not have is the right to a specific job.  There are consequences to freedom of speech.  We all have freedom of speech to tell the boss he is an orafice on the backside of the human anatomy, but I think that person would like the boss excercising his freedom of speech by saying “Your fired.”

  9.  If you live in brooklyn, stop by the chinese place on Ave U and East 13th, they have keyboards for $14 nice Microsoft one’s.  had ours for nearly 5 years till it started showing signs of wear.

  10. you have a point, what did happen to them? hehe, i dont even know why I am trying to defend these porkers anyways. I wouldn’t post about my work related IT nightmares in the public about a semi specific group with my real name, but I dont think it should be punishable either. 

    at least these cops were just shooting off words and not bullets (that shet at the empire state building still makes me pissed… god damned keystone cops.

  11. people ALWAYS invoke our “freedom of speech” as given to us in our constitution BUT that freedom was referring to POLITICAL SPEECH not all speech. if you want to espouse your disappointment with the current “Gov” you cannot be arrested for sedition…and THAT is what ‘freedom of
    speech’ actually means in America.

     even so we do have freedom to say whatever we want to about anything we want BUT we are not immune from the consequences of (nonpolitical) speaking which means if you go onto a public page on Facebook to spout your racist screeds you can expect to be called on it…especially by your Bosses.

  12. And of course people like you will make the determination of the difference between “political” and “non-political” speech. First of all man, the Bill of Rights says NOTHING about distinguishing between “political speech” and “non-pollitical” speech. You’re making crap up to buttress your one-sided opinion. I never heard of such distinction under the law, and it’s a good thing, or else people like you would use it like a weapon to grant yourselves full freedom of speech and suppress any opinion you don’t like.

      Want to know something, guy? I’ll betcha if some minority cops started facebooking about those “old white guys”  at St Patrick’s day parade, you’d be on here  fighting for freedom of speech. That’s the problem I have with you guys. You would call that “freedom of speech”, and the other side “racist hate speech”. I see this all the time, all the time.

       With all that said, I hope the cops are disciplined, not fired. They’re a bunch of fools. They need intelligence training in addition to sensitivity training. 

  13. yep, you’re onto something. Freedoms being reduced, year after year. The amount of freedom individuals have is inversely proportional to the size of government – that’s Bruce B’s original law.

  14. And its scary the amount of people out there that just go along with it. If the govt. says so it must be right.  

  15. KNOW THE LAW…  before you attack people for citing it  🙂

    In the 1780s after the American Revolutionary War, debate over the adoption of a new Constitution resulted in a division between Federalists, such as Alexander Hamilton who favored a strong federal government, and Anti-Federalists, such as Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry
    who favored a weaker federal government.

    During and after the
    Constitution ratification process, Anti-Federalists and state
    legislatures expressed concern that the new Constitution placed too much
    emphasis on the power of the federal government. The drafting and
    eventual adoption of the Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment, was, in large part, a result of these concerns, as the Bill of Rights limited the power of the federal government.

    The First Amendment was adopted on December 15, 1791. The Amendment states:
    shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
    prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of
    speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to
    assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
    The Supreme Court applied the incorporation principle to the right of free speech with the case of Gitlow v. New York. This decision applied First Amendment speech rights to state laws as well as federal ones.

    Freedom of speech in the U.S. follows a graduated system, with
    different types of regulations subject to different levels of scrutiny
    in court challenges based on the First Amendment, often depending on the
    type of speech.

    Types of Speech

    Core Political Speech

    is the most highly guarded form of speech because of its purely
    expressive nature and importance to a functional republic. Most simply,
    core political speech is interactive communications about political
    ideas or issues that are not motivated by profit. Restrictions placed
    upon core political speech must weather strict scrutiny
    analysis or they will be struck down. The primary exception to this
    rule would be within the context of the electoral process, whereby the
    Supreme Court has ruled that suffrage or standing for political office
    as a candidate are not political speech and thus can be subjected to
    significant regulations.
    Commercial Speech

    Main article: Commercial speech
    wholly outside the protection of the First Amendment is speech
    motivated by profit. Such speech still has expressive value although it
    is being uttered in a marketplace ordinarily regulated by the state.
    Restrictions of commercial speech are subject to a four-element intermediate scrutiny. (Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp. v. Public Service Commission)

    Types of restraints on speech

    Time, place, or manner restrictions

    place, or manner restrictions must withstand intermediate scrutiny.
    Note that any regulations that would force speakers to change how or
    what they say do not fall into this category (so the government cannot
    restrict one medium even if it leaves open another). Time, place, or
    manner restrictions must:
    Content neutralBe narrowly tailored…Serve a significant governmental interestLeave open ample alternative channels for communication
    Content-based restrictions

    Restrictions that require examining the content of speech to be applied must pass strict scrutiny.[citation needed]

    Viewpoint-based restrictions
    that apply to certain viewpoints but not others face the highest level
    of scrutiny, and are usually overturned, unless they fall into one of
    the court’s special exceptions.

    Special exceptions

    Obscenity, defined by the Miller test
    by applying contemporary community standards, is one exception. It is
    speech to which all the following apply: appeals to the prurient
    interest, depicts or describes sexual conduct in a patently offensive
    way, and lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific
    value. (This is usually applied to more hard-core forms of pornography.)
    words are words or phrases that are likely to induce the listener to
    get in a fight. This previously applied to words like “the n-word” but
    with people getting less sensitive to words, this exception is
    little-used. Restrictions on hate speech
    have been generally overturned by the courts; such speech cannot be
    targeted for its content but may be targeted in other ways, if it
    involves speech beyond the First Amendment’s protection like incitement
    to immediate violence or defamation.
    Speech that presents imminent lawless action was originally banned under the clear and present danger test established by Schenck v. United States, but this test has since been replaced by the imminent lawless action test established in Brandenburg v. Ohio. The canonical example, enunciated by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, is falsely yelling “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater (This example was authored in Schenck v. United States,
    but still passes the “imminent lawless action” test). The trend since
    Holmes’s time has been to restrict the clear and present danger
    exception to apply to speech which is completely apolitical in content.
    Restrictions on commercial speech,
    defined as speech mainly in furtherance of selling a product, is
    subject to a lower level of scrutiny than other speech, although
    recently the court has taken steps to bring it closer to parity with
    other speech. This is why the government can ban advertisements for
    cigarettes and false information on corporate prospectuses (which try to
    sell stock in a company).
    Limits placed on libel and slander
    have been upheld by the Supreme Court. The Court narrowed the definition
    of libel with the case of Hustler Magazine v. Falwell made famous in
    the movie The People vs. Larry Flynt.
    The Government Speech
    Doctrine establishes that the government may censor speech when the
    speech is its own, leading to a number of contentious decisions on its
    Statements made by public employees pursuant to their official duties are not protected by the First Amendment from employer discipline as per the case of Garcetti v. Ceballos.
    This applies also to private contractors that have the government as a
    client. The First Amendment only protects employees from government
    employers albeit only when speaking publicly outside their official
    duties in the public interest Pickering v. Board of Ed. of Township High
    School Dist. Speech is not protected from private sector disciplinary

  16.  “Freedom of Speech” refers to criticizing government; not corporations or people.  The exception is satire. 

  17. Everyone who has worked for a corporation is made well aware from “training seminars” (I referred to them as indoctrination) that one can be disciplined/fired for his comments in the workplace (i.e. email, etc). And I stated my support for discipline of the policemen.

        Your rather long-winded treatise does not invalidate my point that in the same situation but with different ethnic victims and/or perpetrators, magically, the viewpoint is different by many.

        I note that in your cited Garcetti v. Ceballos, the verdict was given, overturned, and re-instated by a 5-4 vote of the Supreme Court. Hardly a conclusive verdict. Perhaps we can expect that one to be overturned again.

  18. Know what I find crazy? Many people my age, when they were younger, were chanting NOT to trust the government for anything. ANYTHING. That was the mantra.

       Fast forward 40 years. Now they’re willing to hand the government all their money to divvy out. Willing to hand the government all decision-making over their lives.

       I’m still stuck in the not trusting the government phase.

  19. The subtext here is that the Internet isn’t the corner bar. What you write is there for all to see. If you don’t use discretion your words may return to bite you.

  20. Go stand at the start of that parade on Eastern Parkway and Pennsylvania Ave (if you do not know where that is, I can give you directions), and after 5 minutes, tell me what you think. It is not racism, it is just realism. 

  21. PS- Go look up how many people are stabbed, shot, and/or killed during this scheduled riot, then go look up the same statistics for the St. Patricks Day, Columbus Day, or when a team wins a championship parade. Then go tell me that it’s “racism”. 

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