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: Stopallthathating.com

BETWEEN THE LINES: With 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.

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