Officer Put On Leave For Tweeting To Bait Public Into Violence

from the bad-cop-bad-cop dept

It seems like there are so many police-behaving-badly stories that have come out recently, it’s no longer all that noteworthy. Mind you, I don’t know that the policing situation is generally actually getting worse, as it might seem, or if there is just simply a greater willingness to shine a spotlight in some very uncomfortable places within our own society. That said, what does remain interesting is watching how police around the country react to this spotlight. Watching the unfortunate reactions to athletes showing support for protesters, for instance, would be hysterical if it weren’t so sad. Those stories appear to indicate that some within law enforcement appear to think that protecting some members of the population is a task with which they can be selective.

But, hey, at least those police representatives weren’t directly attempting to escalate the confrontation in the most insulting way possible. Reader Tim A writes in with an ironically-named Officer Phillip White’s suspension from multiple jobs for using social media in an attempt to convince us he’s the biggest asshole alive.

The San Jose Police Department said Officer Phillip White was sidelined after officials learned of statements made Saturday from his Twitter account. In the tweets, White said he would kill anyone who threatens him or his family. He also said he would be off-duty at the movies with his gun if anyone “feels they can’t breathe or their lives matter.”

The tweets and hashtag played on protest slogans “I can’t breathe” and “black lives matter.”

For a member of law enforcement to actively attempt to bait members of the public he is sworn to protect into a violent confrontation is stupid on levels I’m seriously having trouble conceptualizing. The good news is that the San Jose police reacted swiftly and took this clown off the streets, hopefully removing the gun he’d been boasting about as well. In addition to being placed on leave by the police department, Menlo College also relieved Mr. White of his duties as an assistant basketball coach.

“The college will not be represented by expressions of intolerance and bigotry on the campus, on social media, or on the Internet,” the college said in a statement.

Look, free and open speech is immensely important, but anyone who thinks it’s okay for a public officer to publicly bait members of the public to a potentially violent confrontation in public is publicly dumb. Nearly as dumb as Officer White, who thought that hurried attempts to delete his tweets would keep him out of trouble. We shouldn’t want to hear from him again until a well-thought-out psychiatric evaluation is conducted.

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Comments on “Officer Put On Leave For Tweeting To Bait Public Into Violence”

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Balance on a slippery slope....

I understand and applaud the swift reaction here but where is the balance for where he his right to his opinion is being held down?

We see other articles here where school officials are scolded for acting on things that students do off of school grounds and this is a very similar situation.

I think the key factors are he is a sworn officer of the law therefor is expected to uphold his integrity at all times and that he crossed the line of explicitly suggesting hostile acts.

your thoughts?


Re: Balance on a slippery slope....

We have a higher expectation for places of learning to encourage (or at the very least, not pointlessly discourage)the free speech rights of students than we do for employers respecting the free speech rights of their employees.

In this particular case, it can be argued that Officer White’s comments are directly related to his ability to perform his job, since one of the qualities we demand from law enforcement is impartiality. You could also argue that, free speech concerns aside, his comments show very poor judgment. Having poor judgment is detrimental to performing any job, but having good judgment is especially necessary for law enforcement. They are asked to use their discretion to decide when it’s appropriate to pursue charges and when it’s appropriate to let someone off with a warning. Their job also requires them to use physical violence when it’s absolutely unavoidable, all the way up to lethal force.


Re: Balance on a slippery slope....

“I think the key factors are he is a sworn officer of the law therefor is expected to uphold his integrity at all times and that he crossed the line of explicitly suggesting hostile acts.”

You hit the nail on the head. This is also the point that is missing from the perspective of people who counter the Ferguson/chokehold/kid-shooting protesters with the red herring of black-on-black violence.

Citizens of any ethnicity killing citizens of any ethnicity is definitely bad, but regular citizens aren’t officially sworn to uphold the law and to protect the public and they aren’t trusted with the legal authority to commit violence against or even kill citizens in certain circumstances (beyond self defense) in order to achieve those goals. With greater authority like that should come greater responsibility, greater discernment, greater empathy, and greater consequences for violating that trust.

No one should be surprised when a young student says something that school administrators find offensive in or out of school.

No one should look the other way when a sworn peace officer says (much less does) something that implies they are inclined to abuse the authority that they have been entrusted with.


Re: Balance on a slippery slope....

There are exceptions to Free Speech and the First Amendment. Normally, I hear that statement trotted out by people who want to limit valid free speech. So it’s with some reluctance I actual say it. But it’s true, and this is one of those exceptions.

You can’t yell fire in a public theater (public safety), you can’t claim there is a nuclear device in a stadium when there isn’t (public safety), you can’t incite to riot (public safety), you can’t make credible threats to injure or kill someone (public safety).

Note that all of those restrictions are for reasons of public safety. The idio… officer threatened to shoot anyone who disagreed with him, gave a public location, and did so publicly. This person has a gun, and while I’m fairly certain he was BS’ing, BS’ing about murder isn’t something you can do if anyone can conceive of you doing it. Given that police have guns, and are trained to shoot people, it’s not hard to conceive of you doing it.

Unlike a random student in a forum about first person shooters saying I’ll blow you away, this is a police officer, injecting his threat of violence into an already tense situation via social media. Common Sense says the 14yo who mouths off in the FPS forum isn’t a real threat. Common Sense also says a police officer shouldn’t be making public threats against anyone people who are protesting that police are too violent.


Re: Re: Balance on a slippery slope....

Without looking closer at the original tweets, it’s entirely possible the they could be considered: a threat, fighting words, or incitement.

Again, without looking, I’m not sure which one applies, and I don’t really care enough to. But, you’re right, there ARE limits to free speech. Some people would like to expand those limits to “anything I don’t like,” but that doesn’t change that they exist.


Re: Re: Balance on a slippery slope....

“You can’t yell fire in a public theater (public safety), you can’t claim there is a nuclear device in a stadium when there isn’t (public safety), you can’t incite to riot (public safety), you can’t make credible threats to injure or kill someone (public safety).”

This has nothing to do with Free Speech being protected, and everything to do with “if you have a right to life, everyone else has a right to life”.

Basically, a person cannot deliberately cause another to get injured or killed except in a lawfully declared war or in defense of their life.

I agree with the rest of your comment.


Re: Balance on a slippery slope....

“…where is the balance for where he his right to his opinion is being held down?”

He has the right to say those things if he wants, but he doesn’t have the right to be a law enforcement officer and say those things. This shouldn’t really even have to be questioned. Your thought process bothers me…

Police should be held to a higher standard

Two points:
1) It seems like there are so many police-behaving-badly stories that have come out recently, it’s no longer all that noteworthy
I believe every story about police behaving badly is noteworthy, because like you said, this shines a spotlight on their activities. I hope society gets to the point where we don’t have to report these stories simply because police no longer behave badly.

2) Look, free and open speech is immensely important
Yes, free speech is very important, but it also comes with responsibility. Just like people can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater, people shouldn’t bait people into violent confrontations. And what about the idea of holding police officers to a higher standard than regular people? This includes behaving appropriately on social media sites like Twitter.

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