Police officers and departments across the nation have been accused of having implicit bias against and racist views about black people for a long time. The accusations are not new, but they are often refuted by those accused.
We are supposed to believe that law enforcement officers view everyone the same and treat everyone fairly under the letter of the law. We are supposed to believe that, but we know deep in our souls that it’s not true.
So when the Plain View Project (PVP) took a look at the public profiles of law enforcement officers from eight jurisdictions and put together a database that showed these officers frequently posted racist comments, memes and expressions of violence—some of the very things that activists in the Movement for Black Lives have protested against—it was met with a feeling of “See, we told y’all” combined with a cup of “But what are y’all going to do about it?”
According to the Washington Post, it prompted multiple cities to launch investigations into the online activities of their officers.
Some of the highlights, according to the Post:
After matching published employee rosters with Facebook profiles, and examining the public posts those individuals made, the project found thousands of Facebook posts and comments that ran the gamut from racist memes to conspiracy theories to bombastic expressions of violence. Several expressed the desire to use a taser or deadly force on suspects, actions that have brought law enforcement under scrutiny in recent years and sparked nationwide protests against police brutality.
“Instead of hands up don’t shoot, how about pull your pants up don’t loot!” read a memethat depicted the late African American singer Sammy Davis Jr. in an apparent dig at the Black Lives Matter movement. The image was shared on Facebook in 2015 by a captain in the Philadelphia Police Department.
“What a POS, firing squad,” a man PVP identified as a Philadelphia police officer commented beneath a news story about a man who shot an elderly woman.
“Too bad this MF didn’t resist and meet a very violent and painful demise. Would have saved the taxpayers a LOT of money,” reads a Facebook post by a man identified as a former officer from York, Pa., who was sharing the news of a black man’s arrest in the killing of a police detective.
On their website, PVP wrote, “We believe that these statements could erode civilian trust and confidence in police, and we hope police departments will investigate and address them immediately.”
Philadelphia, Phoenix and St. Louis have all announced that investigations are happening after some of their officers were exposed in the database.
Other jurisdictions with officers who posted questionably racist content include Dallas and Denton, Texas; Twin Falls, Idaho; and Lake County, Fla.
PVP founder Emily Baker-White told the Post that the impetus for creating the database was “alarming Facebook posts” by police officers that she saw while on a fellowship at the Federal Community Defender Office in Philadelphia. Baker-White was working on a police brutality case and said she found “several public Facebook pages, linked to officers involved in the case, that contained offensive memes and messages.”
Among those posts was one with the image of a police dog baring its teeth. The text superimposed over the picture read “I hope you run, he likes fast food.”
“I found that meme really alarming,” Baker-White told the Post. “That made me wonder how much more of this is out there. How many more police officers are posting things like this on the internet?”
“One of the most disheartening things in the posts we saw are the comments under them,” she said. “Some of them are by citizens, and some are by police officers. There’s very much a pile-on culture, where someone may say something violent and the folks under that will ramp it up and say something even more violent or discriminatory. The feedback loop there has led a lot of people to lean into their worst instincts.”
And that is exactly why these types of things need to be exposed and properly dealt with. It is not enough to simply investigate the officers involved; there needs to be some sort of punitive action.
If these types of beliefs and behaviors are allowed to continue to fester in our nation’s law enforcement agencies, black death at the hands of police will continue to be normalized and accepted.
And we just can’t have that shit.