What to Know
- City council voted unanimously to hold public hearings on the investigation of racist Facebook posts from Philadelphia police officers.
- The vote came a day after Commissioner Ross announced 72 Philadelphia officers were placed on leave amid the investigation.
- The investigation will determine whether the speech in the Facebook posts was protected by the First Amendment.
City councilmembers unanimously passed a resolution Thursday that will allow public hearings on the investigation of thousands of racist and violent Facebook posts from Philadelphia police officers.
“The plan is that once the police department completes their investigation that we’re going to have a conversation regarding this issue and what action steps we can take moving forward,” City councilman Derek Green told NBC10.
On June 1, the Plain View Project, a watchdog organization, released a database covering two years’ worth of more than 3,000 racist, demeaning and discriminatory Facebook posts from both current and former police officers in eight U.S. cities, including Philadelphia.
Researchers found officers bashing immigrants and Muslims, promoting racist stereotypes, identifying with right-wing militia groups and glorifying police brutality.
More than 300 Philadelphia police officers were identified in the database and all the posts were public. The project's findings were picked up by news organizations and police departments nationwide.
A sergeant in Philadelphia commented that a young suspect should be "taken out back and put down like the rabid animal he is." Another sergeant posted a meme that read "Death to Islam."
On Wednesday, Commissioner Richard Ross announced 72 Philadelphia officers were placed on administrative leave amid the investigation. The Philadelphia Law Department, Philadelphia law firm Ballard Spahr and the Internal Affairs Unit of the Philadelphia Police Department are all investigating the posts to determine if the speech is constitutionally protected.
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"An example would be an opinion on the matter of public concern that may be unpopular but does not include threats of violence or pejorative language against any protected class," Ross said. "If the speech is not protected by the First Amendment, the case will proceed with appropriate discipline."
Prior to city council’s decision to hold the hearings Thursday, community leaders and activists spoke on the investigation and actions they wanted to see from city leaders.
“We want our city leaders who we just voted for another four years to join with us to make certain that those police that don’t want to police our community are removed,” Paula Peebles, of the Rally for Justice Coalition, said.
While Ross did not reveal how many officers would be disciplined, he did say “with a degree of certainty” that some would be fired as a result of the investigation. His comment drew criticism from John McNesby, the union president of the Philadelphia chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police.
“It’s premature and irresponsible for the Commissioner to tell the public that police officers will be fired without a complete investigation into officers’ social media use,” McNesby said. "Our officers are entitled to due process just like any other citizen."
McNesby also said FOP attorneys and leaders are working to protect their members' "rights under the contract and free-speech” and that too many officers had been taken off the street during a time of increased violence in Philadelphia.
Mayor Jim Kenney addressed concerns over a decreased number of officers during an appearance on MSNBC on Thursday.
“Their assignments were spread out around the city,” Kenney said. “If it were one or two districts specifically we’d have a problem. But we were able to backfill with officers that were doing administrative work to make them fill those spots across the city so we’ll be okay from a personnel standpoint.”