Fred, my tireless and apparently sleepless issue scout, alerted me to this ugly story out of Florida:
MIAMI (AP) — A handful of Miami Beach police officers sent hundreds of racially offensive and pornographic emails and possibly jeopardized dozens of criminal cases in which they are witnesses, the department’s chief said Thursday. An internal investigation revealed that two of the 16 officers were high-ranking within the Miami Beach Police Department and were the main instigators, Chief Daniel Oates told reporters. One has retired, and the other was fired Thursday.Oates said the probe revealed about 230 emails demeaning to African-Americans and women or pornographic in nature. Many were depictions of crude racial jokes involving President Barack Obama or black celebrities such as golfer Tiger Woods. One shows a woman with a black eye and the caption, “Domestic violence. Because sometimes, you have to tell her more than once.”
One of the racially offensive emails depicted a board game called “Black Monopoly” in which every square says “go to jail.” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said about 540 cases in which the officers were witnesses are being reviewed to determine if they are tainted racially. Some charges could be dropped as a result or prisoners freed from jail
Fred comments, beginning with the favorite Ethics Alarms first step to ethics analysis:”What’s going on here? A widespread failure of leadership and personnel screening.”
That, for sure. Unfortunately, there is even more:
1. Number 2, after leadership, is training. It is mind-blowing that any police officers in the United States of America would not be aware of the degree to which such conduct jeopardizes community relations, trust and the effectiveness of the department, but I read about equally idiotic e-mail behavior from judges, lawyers, elected officials and business executives weekly. The message that this kind of thing is as destructive to the department and everyone in it, and won’t be tolerated even once, must be sent regularly, formally, and emphatically. Obviously, it wasn’t.
2. Do such e-mails prove that the Miami Beach police, or even the police officers involved, perform their jobs in a racist manner? The answers are 1) no, and 2) it doesn’t matter.
Once anything like this becomes public, trust is impossible for two reasons. First, it is more likely than not that someone who thinks e-mails like these are amusing does not sufficiently respect women and minorities, and second, it is beyond argument that their judgment is horrific. People who think it’s amusing to denigrate any group are not certain to be racist in their interactions with such groups, but given a choice, those groups would rather take their chances with someone else, and so would I. Meanwhile, people whose judgement is this horrific shouldn’t carry guns.
3. The worst consequences of this kind of revelation is that it reflects poorly on all police departments, everywhere. Is that fair? Obviously not, just as it isn’t fair for police to develop antagonistic and suspicious attitudes toward African-American males based on the conduct of a few, some or many. What is fascinating and tragic is that neither police nor African-American activists appear to comprehend that they both have the same problem. Individuals always affect perceptions of groups they belong to. You can say it is unfair, and indeed bigotry, for any individual to be prejudged on the basis of conduct he or she was not responsible for, and it is, but it is also unavoidable. Bias is an evolutionary trait, programmed into us all. It reminds us not to make the same mistake twice without thinking about it.
4. For this reason, making sure that everyone possesses individual recognition of a responsibility not to harm one’s community, profession, social group, gender, or race by their personal bad conduct is crucial.
5. There are people too self-centered or stupid to process this principle. They do tremendous damage to the bonds that hold society together. They need to be detected, and rejected by their groups if their proclivities cannot be changed.
6. Apparently most of the officers who received the racist and sexist e-mails ignored them. They need to be punished, and severely. For the member of an organization to be aware of this kind of conduct and not to report it to superiors is almost as serious misconduct as composing and sending the e-mails in the first place. The obligation to report potential organizational rot must be recognized as a core professional responsibility. Again, leadership and training.
7. The culture of police and other dangerous professions requiring teamwork and trust dictates that members are loyal to each other above all. This is exactly as corrupting and self-defeating, carried to an extreme, as inner city black neighborhoods that teach that one shouldn’t be a “snitch” and should refuse to report illegal conduct to the police. Loyalty and trust do not require complicity in misconduct. That warped cultural value in police forces, in the inner city, anywhere, must be rejected and changed.
8. If you want a slam-dunk argument for why employers should monitor work e-mail, here it is.
9. A lot of Miami Beach police officers need to be fired or suspended for this scandal, beginning with leadership.
10. There are police departments that are festering sores of racism, anger and unprofessional practices. Once, before the internet, these departments could persist, harming their communities, abusing power, defiling the rule of law and basic human decency, for decades without anyone taking notice. Now the Fergusons are more likely to be exposed. That’s a positive development. They also, when they are exposed, undermine trust in law enforcement, racial justice, and the police everywhere, even in communities where progress is being made, leadership is strong, and police officers are performing their difficult jobs with courage, sensitivity and professionalism. I suppose that the benefit is worth the price.