Protesters Do Not Go Far Enough in Demanding Accountability for Philadelphia Police Officers Posting Racist Content on Facebook

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Jun 11, 2019 | 0 Comments

Protesters in Philadelphia are calling for hundreds of the city's police officers to be pulled from the streets and assigned to desk duty after their racist and inflammatory posts on social media were posted for all to see.

At the risk of beating a dead horse, it bears repeating exactly why police officers need to be held accountable for racist conduct like this. The only concern is that assigning them to desk duty would not be enough to prevent them from skewing the justice system by targeting minorities.

Racist Social Media Activity by Philadelphia Police Officers Revealed

The Plain View Project is an online database of racist and discriminatory social media posts that have been verified to have originated from police officers. The posts were originally made available to the public by the police officer posting them.

While the Project only covers eight jurisdictions, Philadelphia is one of them.

In all, there were 3,132 Facebook posts, along with thousands of other comments to Facebook posts, from Philadelphia police that had racial undertones or that discriminated against people based on their religion, gender, or orientation.

These posts came from nearly 330 active members of the Philadelphia police force.

Protesters Demand Officers Be Taken Off Streets

When the Project's database was circulated over the past few weeks, protesters took to the streets to demand that the outed officers be assigned to desk duty.

So far, 10 of the police officers listed in the Plain View Project have been put on desk duty and the police department has hired an independent investigator.

Why Racist Comments Should Disqualify Someone from All Police Work

Police officers have a difficult and very important job: They are supposed to apply the law to real-life situations in real-time. To do this, police officers are granted lots of discretion about how they interact with people. They are also expected to act with restraint – both by bypassing people who do not seem to have broken the law and by relying on the criminal justice system to punish those who do seem to have broken the law.

As soon as police officers reveal that they have an agenda or a strong animosity against certain people or types of people, everything that they do on the job becomes tainted. For a police officer with a documented history of hating blacks or Muslims (two particular populations that were commonly attacked in social media posts by officers in Philadelphia), the officer's decision to let a white driver off with just a warning becomes just as tainted as their decision to make a violent arrest of a black person.

Even if it were somehow possible for the police officer to compartmentalize their discriminatory thoughts, the mere illusion that those thoughts are in play while the officer is on the job is enough to disqualify them from wearing a badge because the public cannot trust the officer to behave in an unbiased way.

Unfortunately, this means that the protesters' demands that the officers outed by the Plain View Project be assigned to desk duty does not go far enough. Officers on desk duty still play important roles in law enforcement and the criminal justice system. Worse, their work is far more difficult to detect. The taint that their racism brings to their work product betrays the public's trust in police so much that they need to be kicked off the force, entirely.

Joseph D. Lento: Criminal Defense in Philadelphia

Joseph D. Lento is a criminal defense lawyer in Philadelphia. Contact him online or call his law office at (215) 535-5353 for legal representation if you have been charged with a crime.

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Joseph D. Lento

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