Thursday, July 30, 2009

National Brotherhood Week

A Boston police officer is in trouble for an e-mail he sent regarding the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

…Officer Justin Barrett referred to the black scholar as a ” jungle monkey” in the letter, written in reaction to media coverage of Gates’s arrest July 16.

Barrett, a 36-year-old who has been on the job for two years, was stripped of his gun and badge yesterday and faces a termination hearing in the next week, said police spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll. He has no previous disciplinary record, she said.

“Yesterday afternoon, Commissioner Davis was made aware that Officer Barrett was the author of correspondence which included racially charged language,” she said. “At that time, Commissioner Davis immediately stripped Officer Barrett of his gun and badge, and at this time we will be moving forward with the hearing process.”

He also served in the National Guard, which didn’t take kindly to his rant. They also suspended him pending the outcome of an investigation.

The response to this news will be greeted in some quarters as “political correctness” gone amok and that Officer Barrett is being fired for exercising his First Amendment rights to express his opinion regardless of how odious they may be.

I don’t have a problem with Officer Barrett holding whatever opinions he might have. And frankly, I don’t care if he shares those opinions with others. But there’s a difference when you speak out as a police officer and send the e-mail out to everyone on your National Guard mailing list.

It’s interesting to note that Officer Barrett begins his e-mail by stating that he is “a former English teacher [and] writer.” So he should be aware of the power of words, and he should also be aware of the impact of using words like “banana-eating jungle monkey.” He could easily have made his point about his objections to the Globe article without using those words; in fact, if he had written a dispassionate letter that made his case, the paper would probably have taken him seriously. Instead, he’s now made himself the issue, not the incident itself, and he will probably get a lot of attention from people in certain circles who will want to keep the story alive. Officer Barrett will do the talk-radio circuit, he’ll get some kind of legal defense fund, and he’ll go the full victim route, following in the path of the doctor in Tampa who sent the e-mail depicting the president as a witch doctor and had to quit his job trashing healthcare reform because of the backlash. Maybe that was the point of Officer Barrett’s letter. It’s always easier to stir things up with some fiery rhetoric than it is to actually deal with the issues.

Meanwhile, the news media is all wrapped up in the meeting this afternoon at the White House between Prof. Gates, Sgt. Crowley, and President Obama. They’re all very interested in what kind of beer they’re going to drink.

And the relentless pursuit of the trivial marches on.