A Philadelphia Fire Department paramedic is under fire for posting this picture with the caption: “Our real enemy.” The caption also said “Need 2 stop pointing guns at each other & at the ones that’s legally killing innocents.” Marcell Salters has also published highly antagonistic language toward police officers. He has since apologized but some have called for his punishment or termination. In the meantime, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is under attack after Ismaaiyl Brinsley effectively executed two police officers over his anger with the recent decisions by grand juries in Missouri and New York. police have been protesting what they view as de Blasio’s unfair portrayals of police after the decision, including turning their backs on the mayor when he came to give a press conference on the murders.
Marcell Salters has been denounced for his attack on officers who often protect paramedics at accident and crime scenes. In now deleted comments, Salters said that he “never did or will like police” and “[b]ecause of what i do i have to work with them but dont have to like them . . . There are numerous crooked & corrupted cops (mostly white) & mostly they harass, beat, or kill innocents (mostly blks).”
He has since apologized and posted the following: “I would like to deeply apologize to anyone i have offended. That post was out of anger of what is going on around the world (mike brown, eric garner & etc) & past experiences that i have had with the police. . . My intentions was not to slander or hurt anyone or my brothers in blue. Again i am sorry.”
I have previously written about concerns that public employees are increasingly being disciplined for actions in their private lives or views or associations outside of work. We have previously seen teachers (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here), here, here, students (here and here) and other public employees (here and here and here) fired for their private speech or conduct, including school employees fired for posing in magazines (here), appearing on television shows in bikinis (here), or having a career in the adult entertainment industry (here).
One different wrinkle is that Joseph Schulle, head of the firefighters’ union Local 22, said that Salters could be disciplined because he allegedly made a comment about the post while on duty. That creates a different context than many of the prior cases above where comments or postings were made entirely during off-hours or outside of public jobs. It is not clear what the comment was that is being isolated as a possible basis for discipline however.
I tend to view these cases from a first amendment perspective. I find Salters’ comments to be highly offensive and wrong. However, I do believe that he has a right to say them just as others have a right to denounced them. While such comments obviously make for tense working conditions, some of us believe that free speech requires bright-line rules of protection even for hateful speech like that of Marcell Salters.
The uproar of police in Philadelphia has joined an equal if not greater outcry of officers in New York.
Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, the killer of officers Wenjian Liu, 32, and Rafael Ramos, 40, had a history of violence and mental instability. He shot the officers as they sat in their patrol car in Brooklyn on Saturday before he ran to a subway station and shot himself. Only hours earlier, he shot and wounded his 29-year-old ex-girlfriend, Shaneka Thompson, at her home in Baltimore, Maryland. After shooting Thompson, Brinsley threatened on Instagram to kill police officers while referencing the New York and Missouri grand jury decisions: “They Take 1 of Ours… Let’s Take 2 of Theirs #ShootThePolice #RIPEricGarner #RIPMike Brown. This May Be My Final Post.”
Before the murders, Brinsley reportedly struck up a conversation with two men. According to the police, he asked the men “for their gang affiliation; he asked them to follow him on Instagram; and then he says: ‘Watch what I’m going to do.'” That is when he walked past the patrol car, circled it and then crossed the street to come up behind the car. That is when he fired four bullets through the front passenger window, killing the officers.
Police directed their anger in part at de Blasio who has been viewed as supporting the protests against police after the decision of the New York grand jury. The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association even went as far as having officers to sign a petition calling for Mr de Blasio to be barred from attending their funerals if they were killed in the line of duty. There is also a growing racial rift over de Blasio’s policies. A poll last week found seventy percent of black people approved of the mayor’s performance while only 32 percent of white people supported him. Yet, he had received good polling numbers over his handling of protests following the decisions in New York and Missouri.