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.