There’s an old saying that goes, “Keep my name out of your mouth.”
It’s shorthand for “Watch what you say about me.”
I was reminded of it this week when scrolling through some racially offensive and anti-Islamic posts and comments reportedly made by Philly police officers on Facebook and compiled by the Plain View Project, which chronicles incidents of alleged police bias.
I was already shaking my head in disgust when I spotted my own name. It was on a post shared about a column I wrote in 2017 about two women who behaved badly inside a 7-Eleven store after a clerk locked them inside on suspicion of stealing. The headline reads, “YouTube Fight Video Shows What Not to Do When the Cops Come.”
I thought I was tough on the women, who had been recorded behaving like wildcats. But apparently what I wrote about their behavior didn’t go far enough, according to both a current and a former officer, who commented on the post shared by Sgt. Joseph Przepiorka on Oct. 20, 2017.
His Facebook friends said some pretty disparaging things about me and other African Americans.
“She’s a racist reporter,” wrote someone using the Facebook name “Yo Stuff.” The Plain View Project has identified “Yo Stuff” as Kristine Gillespie-Amato, a former officer who became the subject of a 2017 Inquirer story after she made foulmouthed comments in a Facebook discussion about moving the Frank Rizzo statue.
Her comment followed one by Mike Joe Vass, whom the project identified as a former sergeant, Mike Vassallo, who allegedly wrote, “Blacks just seem not to listen to police they have violent tendencies like jungle animals.”
If you’re curious, this is all on the Plain View Project’s website.
I got off easy compared with others targeted by local officers in their postings. Plain View Project’s list includes negativity not just about blacks, but about Muslims and Mexican immigrants, among others.
One meme allegedly shared by Przepiorka proclaims “Death to Islam” and features a gun-toting skeleton wrapped in an American flag. Other comments promote violence, like one by former police Sgt. Charlie Marsden, who allegedly posted about Councilwoman Cindy Bass’ proposal to ban businesses from installing bulletproof glass. “Will someone smack this Stupid Bitch in the mouth,” he wrote.
A total of 330 local officers made Plain View’s list. Fifteen were high-ranking officers — a police inspector, six captains, and eight lieutenants.
To those who attempt to dismiss this as “boys will be boys” talk, remember that police officers are public servants. Their job is to serve and protect all the people — including African Americans and Hispanics. If they feel that certain people are animals, then they shouldn’t be allowed to wear badges and carry guns.
As noted in the department’s social-media guidelines, officers are supposed to be public ambassadors. Their conduct off duty and online is held to a higher standard than that of average citizens. They should never forget that.
Yet, some officers still felt free to spout their bigotry online for the entire world to see. Granted, it was a small percentage of Philly cops who allegedly engaged in this kind of behavior, but it’s still enough to further erode public trust and confidence in the police.
In addition to Philadelphia, the Plain View Project examined Facebook postings made by police from seven other police departments — in Phoenix; St. Louis; York, Pa.; Twin Falls, Idaho; Lake County, Fla.; Dallas; and Denison, Texas.
Since some officers don’t post under their real names, I asked Plain View Project’s founder Emily Baker-White how identities were verified.
“Every Facebook account has a unique identifying number, which is tied to all of its posts and comments,” she wrote in an email.
Police Commissioner Richard Ross said he was “very troubled” by the report. I look forward to his response, because the officers allegedly involved need to check themselves before they wreck themselves.