by Ed Lyon
There is a time-worn, yet usually quite-accurate saying that states: “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” Thanks in great part to Philadelphia attorney Emily Baker-White’s efforts as leader of The Plain View Project (“PVP”), a national study of cops’ social media posts, that old adage has taken on new significance regarding today’s defenders of law and order. Telling the public how they really feel is more than enough to cause an average citizen to pause, then think thrice before dialing 911 for help.
For example, Philadelphia cop Robert Oakes has, to put it mildly, an extremely disturbing presence on the internet. How does he feel about domestic abuse? His post dated February 24, 2015, reads: “Oh baby, oh baby, PLEAsE DONT!!!!!stop!!!!!resisting!!!!!” Is he a misogynist? His post dated December 21, 2015, shows a husband, wife, son and two daughters. The husband holds a sign saying, “Peace on earth.” Oakes altered the photo, so it appears the wife and daughters have no mouths. How does he feel about basic arrest procedures and the required rights warnings for suspects?
His post dated in September 2015: “here’s your Maranda [sic] rights ...... . 1. You have the right to shut the fuck up ....... anything you say will cause me to fucking throat punch you ..... 2. You have the right to an attorney ..... If you can’t afford one that’s your fucking fault. ...... you should have done better in life .... ”
Just as smoke is an indicator of fire, web posts like these are an indicator of a disturbed individual. Philadelphia has settled two lawsuits totaling $42,000 that involved Oakes. In one, Oakes and another officer stopped and allegedly assaulted an innocent pedestrian as he merely walked down a street. The second settlement involved cops who allegedly assaulted an innocent bystander who was trying to record a “police incident.” Oakes was a member of the mob of cops.
Oakes is not exactly the Lone Stranger in this category of cops. The PVP isolated the most egregious 328 of the 1,073 Facebook-posting Philadelphia cops. Of those 328 posters, 139 had been defendants in one or more civil rights lawsuits.
Rank-and-file cops doing this are bad enough, but in some major cities even supervising cops get into the act. Dallas, Texas, police Sergeant Booker Smith, Jr. posted: “Just another savage that needs to be exterminated” regarding a Dollar General Store murder. “Execute all involved” was his post regarding some teenagers accused of killing a child.
Lake County, Florida sheriff’s Corporal Robert Bedgood displayed a photo of a decal reading “l-800-CHOKE-DAT-HOE’’ accompanied by his comments “my new motto” and “A choke, is the new; i love you.”
Sociologist Peter Moskos, an associate professor at John Jay College’s Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration, characterizes some of the postings as likely just big talk, according to injusticewatch.org, “a way of signaling to colleagues that an officer is not a coward and will have their partner’s back when a dangerous situation erupts.” It is no surprise that Moskos is a former Baltimore, Maryland, police officer.
The PVP’s statistical data proves otherwise and again proves true the old adage of “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”
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