Dallas shooter Micah Johnson’s attacks towards law enforcement have incited a new wave of anti-Black Lives Matter declarations by former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and others, who have called the group “inherently racist.” They believe BLM is, in part, to blame for the deaths of the five police officers.
Now many law enforcement officers and other civil servants have been reprimanded for making offensive and even threatening social media postings describing BLM activists as racists and terrorists. Individual officers have been demoted, suspended, or in few cases, fired, after community members reported posts to city officials.
Detroit detective Nathan Weekley was demoted from the Sex Crimes Unit and made a patrol officer after a Facebook post from July 8th was reported his department. “For the first time in my nearly 17 years as a law enforcement officer I contemplated calling in to work in response to the outrageous act perpetrated against my brothers. It seems like the only response that will demonstrate our importance to society as a whole,” Weekley wrote. “The only racists here are the piece of shit black Lives Matter terrorists and their supporters…[sic]”
A similar incident occurred in South Carolina the day after the Dallas attacks, when a Highway Patrol Trooper posted a status on her Facebook page telling those who felt “the need to bash the police” to “grow up” and “find something else to complain about.”
The name of the patrol officer was not initially released by the South Carolina police department. It was only released after it spread via social media, a model Sergeant Michael Woody from the Detroit Police Department says was followed in the case of Detective Weekley.
Sergeant Woody, who works for the Office of Media Relations, told The Daily Beast that the department “would never have shared” any information about the incident if screenshots of the Facebook post hadn’t already been “passed around.” The incident “would have been considered an internal issue,” he said, “settled internally without the help of the media.”
According to a press release issued July 11th, another post was discovered on the Facebook page of a Detroit Police supervisor, and “as a result of his comments he was also re-assigned and placed on restricted duty pending the outcome of an Internal Affairs investigation.” Detroit Police Chief James Craig said he would “not allow comments such as these to go unaddressed.”
When asked if the Detroit Police Department had policies in place regarding offensive social media postings, Sergeant Woody said that “the issue isn’t whether or not we have policies regarding posts. The incident cast a negative light upon our department; that is our sole interest.” He said that the department “will not be looking specifically into our members,” despite the fact that he confirmed that there have been “several incidents” of this nature “over the past few years, which were not released for the record, ultimately.”
As Sergeant Woody’s statement suggests, it is likely that there are far more incidents of this nature that have been reported. Though underreported, other inappropriate social media postings by law enforcement officers have come to light this week.
Derek Hale, a sergeant for Louisville Metro Corrections was suspended after sharing an abhorrent meme on Facebook featuring a white police officer and the words, “If we really wanted you dead all we’d have to do is stop patrolling your neighborhoods...and wait.” Two Memphis policemen were placed on suspension after one allegedly posted a Snapchat picture featuring a gun aimed at an emoji of a black man running.
But it’s not just police officers posting offensive images, memes, and statements to social media; Captain James Morris of the Columbia South Carolina Fire Department was fired after threatening to “run over” Black Lives Matter protesters, who he referred to as “idiots shutting down I-126.”
Lieutenant R. Kelley Hughes, Communications Liaison for the South Carolina Department of Public Safety, told The Daily Beast that in addition to Captain Morris, another local fireman and a local paramedic were also discharged due to inappropriate or threatening social media statements related to the Columbia BLM protest.
Officer Rodney Lee Wilson of the Overland Park force in Kansas was also fired for threatening comments posted on Facebook. “We’ll see how much her life matters soon,” he commented on a photo that LaNaydra Williams of Dallas, Texas posted of her 5-year-old daughter, India, back in 2014. “Better be careful leaving your info open where she can be found :) Hold her close tonight it’ll be the last time [sic],” he wrote.
While the Dallas attacks may have fueled many of these posts, other social media posts reference various incidents of police brutality, including the death of Philando Castile. During a Facebook conversation about the Castile shooting, Hermitage Precinct midnight shift Officer Anthony Venable wrote, “Yeah. I would have done 5,” in what a press release from the Nashville Police Department corroborates was “an apparent reference to the number of shots in the Minnesota case.”
These posts not only reflect the escalating tension between law enforcement officers and local African American communities, but contribute to increasing distrust of police. “Can someone please explain to me how I'm supposed to teach my son and daughter to respect the police when I see this on social media!! [sic]” Antwan Steele, a teaching assistant at Ohio Media School in Whitehall, asked in a Facebook post featuring a screenshot of Sergeant Robert Biddle’s status that read “PUMP THE BRAKES, MONKEYS!”
In light of these incidents, some police departments have developed specific social media policies for employees to follow. The Nashville Police Department’s policy on social media use urges employees to “act with respect and exercise common sense…do not engage in any online communications that could reflect negatively on the department or its members,” and includes a reminder that “existing rules of conduct” apply to social media usage.
Yet without specific protocols in place, it is likely to continue and many officers will keep expressing racist and/or violent views on social media without any disciplinary action. Overland Park Police Chief Francis Donchez Jr. fired Officer Wilson and posted a statement on the Police Department’s Facebook page, but did not identify Wilson by name.
Chief Donchez wrote that the department would “not tolerate any form of discrimination or threats” and that “possible disciplinary action for inappropriate behavior by staff members includes several steps including termination of employment.” He did not specify whether charges would be brought against Wilson, or if the department would adopt new policies to prevent against similar social media attacks in the future.