Arun Venugopal is a reporter and the creator of Micropolis, WNYC’s multi-platform series examining race, sexuality, religion, street life and other issues that define New York City. He has been with the station since 2005, and has covered a wide range of stories, including the death of Sean Bell, the controversy over the Park 51 mosque and community center and Occupy Wall Street .
NYPD Says Racist Facebook Rant on Parade 'Unacceptable'
Tuesday, December 06, 2011
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said Wednesday that internal affairs believes at least 20 offensive Facebook comments in which West Indian Day parade-goers were called "savages" and "filth" may have been made by NYPD officers.
The comment Wednesday comes after two lawyers made the Facebook group public.
It is disturbing when anyone denigrates a community with hateful speech," Kelly said in a statement. "It is unacceptable when police officers do it."
The Facebook page, which has since been taken offline, was discovered by Benjamin Moore and Paul Lieberman who were representing a man arrested for gun possession near the Brooklyn parade route when they came across the discussion thread “No More West Indian Day Detail.”
“The Police Department is investigating and will handle the matter appropriately, as they always do," said Stu Loeser, a spokesman for the mayor's office. "If the comments reported are accurate and from the officers, they are completely unacceptable.”
It could not be confirmed whether any of the posters who identified themselves as police in the group were in fact cops. The police department did not return request for comment.
"They should bring in the national guard!!!" wrote one poster, referring to the regular acts of violence at the parade. "Let the government handle these animals."
Moore and Lieberman made the document with the Facebook postings available to reporters on Tuesday. Their client was acquitted in part, they claim, because the arresting officer was a member of the Facebook page.
"If people who have the power to place other people under arrest, to take away other people's liberty, hold viewpoints such as these, I think it is an occasion to take a step back," said Moore, "and to look at why certain people are being arrested."
Lisa Schreibersdorf, executive director of Brooklyn Defender Services, said the comments spoke to a "culture" within the police department.
“And I do think that many of the arrests do reflect those attitudes and that culture," she said.
At this year's parade, officers were caught on video dancing suggestively with female parade-goers. They also handcuffed and detained City Council member Jumaane Williams, who represents the neighborhood. Williams suggested the fact he is black contributed to the episode.
Eugene O'Donnell, a former police officer and professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said that if the NYPD determines that the comments were in fact made by uniformed officers, it would have a strong case for firing them.
"They’re undermining the efficiency and good order of the department and besmirching its ability to be effective," he said, noting that "if you're involved in that kind of talk, you have a constitutional right to free speech but not a constitutional right to be a police officer."