Protesters gathered outside Philadelphia Police Department headquarters Friday afternoon to denounce more than 300 officers implicated in a recent report cataloging thousands of bigoted and violent social media posts by current and former cops.
The posts were uncovered by a team of researchers who spent nearly two years looking at the alleged Facebook accounts of police officers from eight departments across the country, including Philadelphia. They identified some 330 local officers who appeared to bash immigrants and Muslims, promote racist stereotypes, identify with right-wing militia groups and glorify police brutality.
“We want them off the streets right now,” rally organizer and WURD Radio host Solomon Jones said through a loudspeaker. “We are here to call for change.”
All the posts were public at the time of the investigation, including one from a Philadelphia sergeant who appeared to share a meme that read, "Death to Islam." In another post, a different Philadelphia sergeant allegedly commented that a young suspect should be "taken out back and put down like the rabid animal he is."
The report, released by Plain View Project earlier this week, sparked outrage across the city. Mayor Jim Kenney and several city council members condemned the posts and called for an immediate investigation.
“I don’t think anyone with a badge or a gun that is sworn to protect the public should be harboring those feeling,” Kenney said.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia City Council President Darrell L. Clarke, who represents the 5th District, said he was “deeply disturbed” by the report.
“Posts like these seriously undermine the relationships that our communities need to have with the individuals who wear a Philadelphia Police Department uniform and serve our diverse neighborhoods every day,” Clarke said in a statement.
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross also denounced the posts, saying that officers should be held to a "higher standard" and promising to conduct an investigation. Any officer found to have posted hateful or otherwise bigoted language on their social media accounts could be subjected to disciplinary action, Ross said.
But the dozens of protesters who amassed in the June heat on Friday said that is not enough. Instead, they want these officers off the streets immediately.
"They always put them on desk duty and that’s it,” demonstrator Audrey Smalls said. “They go through arbitration and then they’re right back on the street. And that’s not fair.”
According to the Philadelphia Police Department, 10 officers have already been removed from duty pending an investigation. That number could continue to increase, a spokesperson added.
Earlier this week, state lawmakers with the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus sent a letter to Ross demanding swift action against the offending officers. Included in their recommendations was race relations training and psychological evaluations of officers found to have expressed support for vigilantism and violence.
“Today, all eyes are on Philadelphia,” Democratic State Rep. Stephen Kinsey said. “We can’t tolerate what has already been tolerated.”
As of Friday afternoon, Ross had not responded to the letter, according to Kinsey. The mayor, however, did speak with Kinsey following Friday's demonstration and promised to work closely with the black caucus to “restore trust and integrity” to the police department.
“I know the commissioner. Many of us have faith in Ross to get the job done,” Kinsey said. “We’re supportive of his actions and initial steps, but we hope it’s not the end.”