Five Palo Alto Cops Sue The City And Their PD, Claiming A Black Lives Matter Mural Harassed Them

from the must-have-hired-the-first-attorney-who-didn't-immediately-start-laughing dept

A group of California police officers has decided other people's expressive rights end where their personal offense begins. Five Palo Alto police officers are suing the city, along with their own police department, for somehow discriminating against them by allowing artists to create a street-long Black Lives Matter mural these officers passed on their way to work. (Well, at least up until the mural was removed by the city in November 2020, less than six months after it was first painted.)

The complaint contends harassment begins with the letter "E." From the lawsuit [PDF]:

The iconography at issue in the letter “E” of the mural is an image of Joanne Chesimard, better known as Assata Shakur, who was convicted in 1977 for the murder of New Jersey State Trooper Wermer Foerster, a white police officer. In 1979, while serving life sentence for the murder, Shakur escaped from prison and ended up in Cuba where she now has refuge and where the Cuban government refuses to extradite her to the United States. As result of her conviction and subsequent prison escape, Shakur was placed on the FBI’s Top Ten List 0f Most Wanted Domestic Terrorists.

The cops also have a problem with a "portion of a logo" that has been attributed to the New Black Panthers, an organization designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

It's these two elements of the city-ordained mural that seem to be triggering (yes, and in that form of the word as well) the harassment allegations. That and the fact that the officers were somehow forced to pass the mural on their way to work despite -- as the Palo Alto Daily Post points out -- the officers having to go out of their way to subject themselves to it.

The police department is located at 275 Forest Ave., on the opposite side of City Hall from the mural. The two vehicle entrances to the department are in the 600 block of Ramona and Bryant streets, a half block from where the mural had been located.

Here's a little visual aid that shows how impossible it was for these officers to avoid being confronted by a controversial E:

Somehow the existence of this mural on a street a block away from the police department resulted in host of discrimination and harassment targeting this "protected" group of police officers.

Plaintiffs’ careers have been materially and adversely affected, and irreparably harmed and damaged by the conduct of the Defendants. Defendants, and each of them, created and allowed to exist harassing, discriminatory, and retaliatory work environment and failed to eliminate the illegal conduct complained of by Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs were discriminated against and harassed on the basis of their race, national origin, and/or color and retaliated against for exercising their rights to be free from harassing and discriminatory conduct in the workplace.

Moreover, Plaintiffs spoke out about and reported misconduct, retaliation, discrimination, and harassment in violation of state and federal law and reported such conduct to people above them in the chain of command. As direct and proximate consequence of reporting such misconduct—which constitutes protected activity under state and federal law—Defendants, and each of them, retaliated against, discriminated against, and harassed Plaintiffs and subjected them to adverse employment actions.Those adverse employment actions include, but are not limited to, refusing to eliminate the harassing and discriminatory conduct, and failing or refusing to investigate Plaintiffs’ complaints.

So, while the city did allow the mural to occupy the street and gave its blessing to the sixteen artists involved, it did not direct or supervise the content of the mural. And it's not really "retaliation" for the PD and the City to not remove a mural just because five cops seem super angry about it. Nor is it "retaliation" to refuse to investigate claims that are facially idiotic.

The complaints aren't any less specious just because a law firm signed off on it. The plaintiffs fail to indicate which protected group they believe they're in, which makes it appear the officers believe "police officer" ranks right up there with race, national origin, and skin color.

They also believe the mural bullied them in horrible but nonspecific ways.

As a direct, foreseeable, and proximate result of Defendants' harassing conduct and failure to act, Plaintiffs suffered and continue to suffer humiliation, embarrassment, anxiety, mental anguish, and emotional distress. Plaintiffs were required to and did employ, and will in the future employ, physicians and health care providers to examine, treat, and care for Plaintiffs, and did, and will in the future, incur medical and incidental expenses.

Welp, this lawsuit isn't going to help much on the humiliation and embarrassment fronts. Without more factual assertions about the mural's harassment of protected individuals who happened to pass by it on their way to work as public servants, it's probably not going to survive the first motion to dismiss.

The plaintiffs should be wary of trying to push this too far, because it really looks like the plaintiffs are trying to make the case that saying "Black Lives Matter" somehow means the lives of people who aren't black somehow don't. Their incorrect assumptions about the meaning of this phrase -- as well as their innate ability to be personally offended by certain elements of the street mural -- isn't even remotely in the ballpark of any legally actionable claims.

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Filed Under: black lives matter, mural, palo alto, palo alto police department


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 16 Jul 2021 @ 2:10pm

    'Screw your rights and lives, think about our feelings!'

    Pretty sure whining about how a mural that was up for six months hurt their feelings is not going to make any mockery and derision they might be facing less frequent.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Cynebald (profile), 18 Jul 2021 @ 9:35am

      Re: 'Screw your rights and lives, think about our feelings!'

      While the cop suit is ridiculous, the city wouldn’t allow opposing Points of view have similar access to express themselves in essence making the street mural the only city allowed speech. As much as I believe that we need to eliminate QI and need police reform, we should have a gov agency stating what is approved expression and that is what happened in this case.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 19 Jul 2021 @ 2:43am

        Re: Re: 'Screw your rights and lives, think about our feelings!'

        "the city wouldn’t allow opposing Points of view have similar access to express themselves in essence making the street mural the only city allowed speech."

        [citation required] as usual.

        Are you trying to tell us the city would not "allow" a mural related to, oh, upbeat messages, taxation, government size etc, or are you just miffed the city won't allow the "Oh, you know the ones" opinions related to bigotry, racism, conspiracy theory bullshit or verifiable falsehood to stand?

        "...we should have a gov agency stating what is approved expression..."

        You know where the tell is, of your assumption of government censorship as normal, bro? When your platform is "Assume we fsck 1A by allowing government to censor, at which point should government censor" then what you have is an argument. What you have is a thinly disguised false premise.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        nasch (profile), 19 Jul 2021 @ 8:14am

        Re: Re: 'Screw your rights and lives, think about our feelings!'

        the city wouldn’t allow opposing Points of view have similar access to express themselves

        I'm not aware of any case law that would require the city to sponsor a "Black Lives Don't Matter" mural (which is, after all, the opposing viewpoint). Can you cite any? Not being snarky, because when government gets involved in speech it gets complicated quickly.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    AC Unknown (profile), 16 Jul 2021 @ 2:19pm

    I spy idiocy on behalf of the cops suing

    How can one be "harassed" by a mural? It's just a picture.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Thad (profile), 16 Jul 2021 @ 2:23pm

    triggering (yes, and in that form of the word as well)

    The "mocking survivors of trauma" form?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Tim Cushing (profile), 17 Jul 2021 @ 6:14pm

      Re:

      well... mocking these "survivors" of this "trauma" anyway

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Thad (profile), 19 Jul 2021 @ 10:08am

        Re: Re:

        Yeah, but the thing about certain kinds of insults is that they target a broader group of people than the person you're intending to insult. It's why you shouldn't use slurs like the R-word, or insult somebody's appearance.

        "Triggered" is a term from psychology, referring to how certain topics can cause survivors of trauma (frequently, but not exclusively, sexual violence) to relive that trauma. In recognition of this, people began to preface certain sensitive topics with trigger warnings.

        The outrage brigade -- the same bullies who have been ranting for 40 years about political correctness -- adopted "triggered" as an insult, implying, as is their wont, that showing basic compassion for other people is worthy of mockery and derision.

        I can understand why you'd want to turn bullies' own usage back on them, but the problem is, when you do that, they still win. You're still using "triggered" as an insult, as something that trivializes the word to imply that "triggered" means that someone is weak or oversensitive.

        Using "triggered" that way doesn't just insult your direct targets. It belittles people who experience real triggers.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 16 Jul 2021 @ 2:32pm

    They put the "ow" in snowflakes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TheResidentSkeptic (profile), 16 Jul 2021 @ 2:34pm

    Strong

    the snowflake is in these guys.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Jul 2021 @ 3:00pm

    Bullied

    Any police officer that found themselves facing any sort of mental anguish due to a mural needs to go ahead and resign for mental health reasons.
    If seeing a mural is giving you anxiety to the point that it affects your job and your job tends to involve tense situations, you're going to have an oops that costs someone their live (like firing your gun instead or your taser).
    A job in law enforcement (should) require a strong mental fortitude... in theory you'll be taking fire, seeing terrible things and having to make quick decisions... none of which can happen for an individual so mentally fragile that they are unable to work due to a mural.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 16 Jul 2021 @ 3:28pm

    I can see the news now...

    Officer Who Shot Unarmed Black Person Claims “Mural Made Me Do It”

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    So and so, 16 Jul 2021 @ 4:21pm

    Sorry the city budget is all messed-up. We have much much higher than expected legal fees. We are reducing the police department by seven officers so the city doesn't go broke effecting everyone.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bloof (profile), 16 Jul 2021 @ 4:24pm

    No wonder police departments feel they need military grade hardware to protect their officers, they keep recruiting people with skin so thin a stiff breeze can tear a hole right through them and any sort of criticism cuts through to the bone.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jamie, 16 Jul 2021 @ 4:27pm

    "Mr. Police Man, point on the doll where did the mural touched you."

    I think they just need a binkie and a nap.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Jul 2021 @ 6:09pm

    I'd say I do hope they go home distressed, humiliated, and embarrassed, but cops usually deal with those emotions by getting drunk and beating their wives. Plus, you know, they're lying. Just some government leeches who provide nothing of value to society trying to leech more money.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 16 Jul 2021 @ 7:15pm

    O M F G...

    Fire them.
    They are mentally unfit for the job.
    If the mural makes them this upset imagine what might happen if someone tried to photograph them beating the crap out of a black kid, or dared call them a pig... These are people who should not have weapons and QI to murder anyone they want.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Jul 2021 @ 12:09am

    The first 5 paragraphs of the complaint list the Plaintiffs and refers to them as "competent adults." Clearly, they aren't.

    ..At least the mural wasn't smirking at them in an intimidating manner. They probably would have had heart attacks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 17 Jul 2021 @ 6:09pm

      Re:

      Tell me about it, just imagine if one of the cops in question had been passing by and one of the painters had given them a mean look, the sheer shock and emotional trauma likely would have caused a heart-attack on the spot.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 19 Jul 2021 @ 2:46am

      Re:

      "At least the mural wasn't smirking at them in an intimidating manner. They probably would have had heart attacks."

      It might prompt the first "stand your ground" case where cops tracked down and shot the artists because seeing the art work made them fear for their lives, if nothing else.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    spamvictim (profile), 17 Jul 2021 @ 7:41am

    Must have been hard to find a lawyer

    Palo Alto and the Bay Area have about three law firms on every block, but they had to go all the way to L.A. to find a lawyer wiling to sign this complaint. Are they specialists in entertainment law, I.e. fiction?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 17 Jul 2021 @ 10:32am

    no wonder there have been so many Police accidents.

    For all the accidents happening with the police.
    Including some real Whoppers where guns WERE NOT NEEDED.

    What are the requirements being a police officer?
    Or are these people feeling GUILTY for something they have done?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Peter, 17 Jul 2021 @ 3:17pm

    Renaming required

    Should we rename "The Thin Blue Line" to "The Thin Blue Skin"?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Jul 2021 @ 5:42pm

    Plaintiffs suffered and continue to suffer humiliation, embarrassment, anxiety, mental anguish, and emotional distress.

    The only time cops will admit to anything like this is when they are filing a civil suit, apparently.

    They certainly have a low rate of counseling uptake and a high rate of personal problems tho.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Tanner Andrews (profile), 17 Jul 2021 @ 7:51pm

    They demand judgment for

    Physical, mental, and emotional injuries, pain, distress, suffering, anguish, fright, nervousness, grief, anxiety, worry, shame, mortification, injured feelings, shock, humiliation, and indignity, as well as other unpleasant physical, mental, and emotional reactions, damages to reputation, and other non-economic damages,

    As previous comments have noted, these folks are clearly unsuited to be cops. For that matter, they are probably ill-suited for any job calling for performance by a ``competent adult''.

    Still, I cannot help but think that there will be much greater mortification when they are seen to have their names on this complaint. Imagine if their friends or fellow cops found out that the ``Snowflake Five'' had let themselves be associated with this. They should probably move to a different state and change their names in order to avoid the shame and humiliation of having people think of them as being the sorts of people who would bring this.

    And the lawyers? Well, in filing this thing, they have surely beclowned themselves. That may not be disqualifying in LA. or even in California. Still, imagine how they would feel if a search of Matthew S. McNicholas or of Douglas D. WInter or even of Emily R. Pincin were to reveal connection to this steaming pile. That simply cannot help them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 18 Jul 2021 @ 2:14am

    The only shock here is that they refrained from shooting the mural.

    Perhaps Palo Alto might consider hiring adults for the job next time they are hiring, as it seems they accidentally took in small children during their last employment drive.

    I can't imagine being so thin-skinned that I'm filing lawsuits to complain about a picture 7 months after it was removed. Yet, these are supposed to be people capable of dealing with major decisions that can lead to death or injury. That's scary and offensive.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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