(Daily Kos) – The time of accountability is now. For too long, many law enforcement officials have gotten away with hateful rhetoric, violence, and police brutality, but not anymore. Advocates and community members are demanding that law enforcement be held accountable for their actions whether physical or verbal. In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a private Facebook group, called the Pittsburgh Area Police Breakroom, was found to have numerous posts that not only depicted transphobia but bullied those supporting anti-police brutality.
According to the Associated Press, the Facebook group described as a place for officers to “decompress, rant, share ideas,” is made up of both current and retired officers. While a majority of the group’s posts were reportedly about the hardships of being an officer, some depicted hate amongst transphobic and xenophobic rhetoric. The change comes as a few dozen members have become more vocal with their pro-Donald Trump ideology and criticism of “demoncrats” and coronavirus safety measures.
Years’ worth of posts were found not only criticizing chiefs who took a knee or officers who marched with Black Lives Matter protesters but those that called protesters “terrorists” or “thugs.” Additionally, members who supported anti-police brutality protesters, COVID-19 safety regulations, or Joe Biden were bullied in the group, the AP reported. Among those who were bullied and left the group as a result, one officer said the Fraternal Order of Police’s Trump endorsement did not represent her and a Black officer. Both the officers were allegedly accused of creating a fake Facebook account to complain about the lack of diversity in local departments.
“If you are a law enforcement officer and you kneel or lie on the ground so easily over the false narrative of police brutality, you will one day be executed on your knees or your stomach without a fight by the same criminals that you are currently pandering to,” Joe Hoffman, a West Mifflin Borough Police officer wrote criticizing Webster, Massachusetts, Police Chief Michael Shaw. Hoffman also referred to the Black Lives Matter organization as “Black Lies Matter.”
But the hate in the group doesn’t just target other officers and Black Lives Matter protestors. In one incident Tim Huschak, a corporal at the Borough of Lincoln Police Department, posted a screenshot of an Allegheny County 911 dispatcher’s Facebook page, in which the dispatcher noted that the phrase “Blue Lives Matter” is not equivalent to the slogan “Black Lives Matter” because policing is a choice, while race is not. Alongside the screenshot, he said: “Many negative posts on police. And we should trust her with our lives???”
Following the post, angry members came together and demanded the dispatcher be fired. “Multiple officers should call and report it. Remember NO JUSTICE NO PEACE LOL,” West Mifflin Borough Police Department officer Tommy Trieu responded under his Facebook name, Tommy Bear, according to the AP.
Trieu was one of the two West Mifflin officers seen on video last year restraining a teenage Black girl after responding to a call about a fight on a school bus. While calls to fire him and the other officer were widespread, borough officials claimed that the recording occurred after a student hit an officer and thus the officers “did nothing wrong.”
Speaking to the AP in regards to his comment, Trieu defended it and claimed he was only advising other officers that they could file a grievance with the dispatcher’s supervisor if they feared for their safety.
According to the AP, the group’s posts and comments were visible up until last week. Since then posts have been deleted or suspended from view. At the time that the news outlet was able to view posts and comments, the group had about 2,200 members including at least one judge and councilman amongst the officers.
Officers contacted by the AP did not all defend their comments but noted that they believed in “law and order,” a phrase Trump consistently used to spread his hate and bias toward minority communities—while even depicting his support for the Proud Boys.
Officers not only encouraged the use of lethal force but shared posts making fun of lawmakers due to their identity. In one incident, a transphobic post was made about former Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine for her efforts in stopping the spread of COVID-19. Levine, who is transgender, was referred to as “he,” “it,” and “freak,” amongst other names. In one post a retired officer even said: “Someone needs to shoot this thing!!”
While the group emphasizes that “what goes in here, STAYS IN HERE,” it apparently has no rules on what can be said and does not prohibit offensive, racist, sexist, or other threatening content.
This isn’t the first time concerns about bias on officers’ social media accounts have been brought up. Various incidents have been reported in which officers have not only shared hateful rhetoric following protests to end police brutality but those in connection with pro-Trump protests and violence leading to the Capitol insurrection in January. Many of these posts and comments potentially violate department social media policies that do not allow the expression of bias or harassment toward others.
A 2019 project, the Plain View Project, founded by a group of Philadelphia attorneys, examined Facebook accounts of at least 2,900 active and 600 retired officers and found that thousands of posts were not only racist and sexist but advocated for police brutality. The group of attorneys then made the database public, noting that these posts eroded the public’s trust. While Pittsburgh was not part of the project, city officials have received numerous complaints of posts by officers on social media.
“In our view, people who are subject to decisions made by law enforcement may fairly question whether these online statements about race, religion, ethnicity and the acceptability of violent policing — among other topics — inform officers’ on-the-job behaviors and choices,” the project’s founders wrote, the AP reported.
Following calls for officers to resign Pittsburgh Bureau of Police released a new policy stating that officers may face disciplinary action for sharing “any content involving discourteous or disrespectful remarks … pertaining to issues of ethnicity, race, religion, gender, gender identity/expression, sexual orientation, and/or disability.”
But revising a department’s social media policy is not enough. Officers must be accountable for the actions they take including what they post. In fields that are meant to protect citizens, bias and hate cannot be tolerated. Officers should not and cannot advocate for violence.
“You know, that doesn’t make it less upsetting,” Kyna James, a community organizer at the Alliance for Police Accountability in Pittsburgh said. “It’s 2021, and it’s a shame that we are still here and we are still dealing with this.”