The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

“Banana-Eating” “Jungle Monkey?”

Tell me again that “race had nothing to do with” the arrest of Henry Louis Gates. We’ve gone from “gorillas in the mist” to “banana-eating” “jungle monkey.”

Officer Justin Barrett, 36, who is also an active member of the National Guard, sent an e-mail to some fellow Guard members, as well as the Boston Globe, in which he vented his displeasure with a July 22 Globe column about Gates’ controversial arrest.

…In his e-mail, which was posted on a local Boston television station’s Web site, Barrett declared that if he had “been the officer he verbally assaulted like a banana-eating jungle monkey, I would have sprayed him in the face with OC [oleoresin capsicum, or pepper spray] deserving of his belligerent noncompliance.”

Barrett used the “jungle monkey” phrase four times, three times referring to Gates and once referring to Abraham’s writing as “jungle monkey gibberish.”

He also declared he was “not a racist but I am prejudice [sic] towards people who are stupid and pretend to stand up and preach for something they say is freedom but it is merely attention because you do not get enough of it in your little fear-dwelling circle of on-the-bandwagon followers.”

Yeah, I know Barrett wasn’t involved in the Gates arrest. And I know that he doesn’t speak for all of the Boston police—or for all police. But that he was comfortable enough or dumb enough to send that letter not just to friends but to the media, suggests that race is an issue in law enforcement that still needs to be addressed.

The Boston police, for their part, have stripped Barrett of his gun and badge, pending termination hearing. This will almost certainly lead to at least some cries that his “freedom of speech” has been violated. So, I’ll say this to that.

The first amendment reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Clearly, Congress did not act to prevent or penalize Barrett’s expression of his views. Nor did any branch of government. So clearly there’s no violation of free speech that would stand up in court.

There were, consequences for Barrett’s expression of his views. His employer, the Boston Police Department, clearly decided that — at the very least — Barrett’s choice of words, timing, and the public arena in which he chose to express himself made him a liability to the department.

They must, after all, have the public trust on order to do their job effectively. Barrett has jeopardized that, as far as African Americans are concerned. In fact, cops like him are the very reason that “Black Man 101” is still a required course. Because we must learn at an early age, not that we can’t trust the police in general, but we can’t trust who we’re really facing behind that badge.

This was before the Amadou Diallo shooting, before Malice Green, and before Abner Louima. But being from the south, I heard stories, and I knew that I couldn’t completely trust the police, even if I’d done nothing wrong; not so much because of the police a whole, but because I didn’t know who — what kind of person — was behind the uniform, and what they might project upon me as a black man.

None of us wants to find ourselves facing an officer Barrett, wielding a badge, billy club, pepper spray, a gun and perhaps a taser, with the authority to use them as he sees fit in the moment. And should he abuse that authority, we may be able to seek justice later. But even if we get justice afterwards, the damage is already done.

Problem is we don’t know how many officer Barretts there are, or when we’ll end up facing one. So how can we trust the police? And how can we trust them if, having found an officer Barrett in there midst, how can we trust them if they decide to keep him?

The Boston police would do well to remember that during Barrett’s termination hearing.

6 Comments

  1. Free speech is fine, but the 1st Amendment is tied to certain restrictions. One of which is ‘clear and present danger’. After this email, can anyone really believe this individual would be an impartial cop when he’s on the clock?

    “not a racist but I am prejudice [sic] towards people who are stupid and pretend to stand up and preach for something they say is freedom but it is merely attention because you do not get enough of it in your little fear-dwelling circle of on-the-bandwagon followers.”

    This is a typical response from a racist person. They’re fine with the ‘coloreds’ as long as they are towing the perceived line.

    Tony
    Atlanta

  2. It was astounding that this officer felt safe enough to write these statements. It’s clearly, to me, an object lesson why people should not send things written while angry. It brings to mind the old advice: Write the first letter with all the anger you can, then delete (or shred) it then write the real letter with a calmer mind.

  3. Also, I found the full text of his e-mail at http://americanpowerblog.blogspot.com/2009/07/justin-barretts-jungle-monkey.html. He goes on about the columnist, Yvonne Abraham, as well. Any points of honest disagreement he might have been able to make are completely nullified by the Talk Show Style (belligerent & insulting) he chose to use.

  4. it seems that america first amendment and freedom of speech permits it all.. me myself not being an american but a black man living abroad in paris france.. finds this all together appalling.. let just cut it out how can black folks can feel safe and protected with officer or so called officer carrying the most disgusting racist opinion.. this man should be banned for life.

  5. Had we, as a society, a bit thicker skins, we would broadcast these lunacies far and wide, with an appropriate apology to the more sensitive among us, demonstrate a little Common Sense for our fellow man, and let the fringe element drown in the laughter and public ridicule generated by their own thinking or lack thereof. Along with the right to free speech comes the right to make a public fool of oneself; and like the naked, fools have little or no influence on society. We should “Never Underestimate the Power of Laughter.”

  6. There are two discussions here, free speech and conduct unbecoming of an officer. I am not a police officer but I serve in the National Guard with many police officers. First off, let me make it clear, that everyone thinks this guy is an idiot and has brought discredit to both services.

    Second, everyone has the right to free speech, even bigots. But it is not all encompassing to protect you from negative criticism and censure. For instance, in my civilian job while I have the right to speak my mind while not at work. But, if I say something publicly as “an employee of that firm” that harms my company’s image, they have every right to fire me. Barrett in his email rant mentioned that he was both a police officer and a national guardsmen. In any other institution, this would get him immediately fired.

    Right now both the National Guard and BPD are looking to get rid of this idiot. I’m not sure how each will go about doing so. A police officer friend mentioned that it is different from department to department depending on which union there is, but he estimates that they will be able to get him for conduct unbecoming. His conduct makes it impossible for him to continue to work in his profession. This guy will have no credibility in any future arrest or testifying in any future court cases.

    The National Guard may be harder. A military lawyer told me that it will be hard to get him since he didn’t use his military email to send the rant. What may happen is he will be given a rating and given a ‘NO’ in the Respect portion of the report that covers the individual officer character. The definition of respect for this purpose includes supporting equal opportunity as well as fairness and treating others with dignity and respect.

    He will most likely also be given a no in the attributes section covering Emotional (displays self-control), Conceptional (displays sound judgment), Communication and Decision-Making.

    A no in any of those blocks is a career killer. It does not get him out of the guard immediately, but he will never be promoted and would most likely resign.

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