Police and community relations are seemingly worse than ever as many high profile cases of disturbing brutality and death continue to make headlines. With many arguing that these are “isolated incidents” a recently created database delves into the deeply entrenched racism and bigotry that plagues countless police departments around the country.
The Plain View Project (PVP) is a searchable database created by lawyer Emily Baker-White that shows countless social media posts made by thousands of police officers around the country. It took Baker-White 18 months to create the database of 5,000 posts and comments made by police officers through verified accounts. About 2,800 of the officers, some of them high-ranking, are still on the job.
The posts were chosen against criteria that posed one simple question: “Is this post a that might erode public trust in policing?” PVP also looked for content that glorified violence whether it be excessive force by officers, bias against a certain group of people or dehumanizing language. The database allows anyone who wants to find out whether an officer has a disturbing post to his or her credit by looking up that officer’s name and city.
Baker-White started the project after participating in a fellowship where she was assigned to write and investigate police brutality in Philadelphia.
“I stumbled upon the public profiles of several officers in that neighborhood, and I was stunned. I thought, “Oh my God, how can this information be public — why are these guys saying this stuff to the world?” Baker-White said.
Eight departments were honed in on and include some bigger populated areas like Dallas, Philadelphia, Phoenix and St. Louis.
“Yes, police officers have an incredibly hard job,” Baker-White said. “There’s probably an incredible amount of PTSD; there’s an incredible amount of stress. But it’s not O.K. then to say, ‘Let’s go get these animals tonight.’”
In Philadelphia, the Inquirer reported that 15 of the city’s high-ranking officers are in the database because of racist, misogynist, Islamophobic and pro-violence posts. One Facebook post made by Captain George Mullen was a meme featuring the image of the late Sammy Davis Jr. holding a microphone and pointing to the viewer. The words going across the image stated: “Instead Of Hands Up Don’t Shoot How About Pull Your Pants Up Don’t Loot.”
At the St. Louis Police Department one officer, Ronald Hasty, who went by the name “Ron Nighthawk” on Facebook, posted several racist memes, including one with a Confederate flag and the words “If The Confederate Flag Is Racist, So Is Black History Month.” He also shared another post by a group called “Proud to be a White American” that read “March is national ‘Stop Blaming White People Month!’ Accept responsibility for your own bad choices. Hug a white person!”
The officers in both cities are under investigation and it may lead to even more investigations into thousands of officers around the county.
With her findings, White-Baker has come to believe that these posts have come to prove that this is not a “bad apple problem,” but a cultural issue.
“One of the reasons that I don’t think it’s an individual problem is that these folks are talking to each other,” Baker-White said. “There are a lot of posts that have eight comments underneath them, and three of those comments are by other police officers, and in those long comment threads you often see a kind of piling on.”