Offend the Police -- Lose Your Job
By William Norman Grigg
When an employee in the productive sector offends the company’s customer base, he can expect to the censured, sanctioned, or sacked. Customers who complain about such an employee can expect that their opinions will be listened to politely and respectfully. After all, the owners of the company are vividly aware that the public can take its business elsewhere, so retaining their loyalty is a compelling priority.
By way of contrast, when a police officer employed in the coercive sector alienates the public through misconduct or criminal abuse, the offended “customers” are treated with suspicion and hostility. The public will be told to accommodate the police officer’s behavior, and the “customers” will be sternly reminded of their duty to render unconditional loyalty to the agency employing the miscreant.
Since law enforcement cannot go out of “business,” it doesn’t have to worry about public disaffection. The role of police is to distribute violence on behalf of the political class, which is the only clientele they have to please. When a police department is informed of officer misconduct, the institutional priority is to discredit the aggrieved “customers,” rather than to listen to their complaints.
Unlike an employee in the productive sector, a police officer who provokes public criticism is likelier to be promoted rather than terminated. In some jurisdictions, a citizen who files a complaint against an abusive cop can face official retaliation, or even criminal prosecution for filing a “false report” if the complaint is dismissed, which happens in most cases.
As Shawn Peterson has learned, a citizen who uses social media to criticize police abuses can find himself – and his employer – on the receiving end of orchestrated vilification by the police.
Because he criticized the police on his personal Facebook page, Peterson wound up being fired from his job as a cook at Leslie’s Family Tree diner in Santaquin, Utah, in which he provided a worthier public service than any of his tax-devouring antagonists. His termination had nothing whatsoever to do with his job performance; the café’s owners acted in self-preservation after police across the country started an online campaign to drive down the business’s ratings in social media review sites.
Like millions of other Americans, Peterson is alarmed and disgusted by the overt militarization of law enforcement and the impunity enjoyed by police when they kill, assault, or otherwise victimize innocent people. Giving what he now considers improvident expression to his frustration, he posted to his Facebook page a photograph of a uniformed figure sprawled in a pool of blood with a caption reading: “This is what a good cop looks like.” That photo was tagged to the diner’s Facebook page.
The post was quickly noticed by members of police organizations that patrol social media in search of reasons to take offense. Within a few days, recounts the Salt Lake Tribune, “the café’s Facebook rating began to plummet as negative reviews poured in” from across the country. Acting out of tribal solidarity, and exercising their well-established propensity for habitual lying, some of the police officers who commented on the restaurant’s Facebook page spread rumors that Peterson was poisoning the food.
Leslie Broadhead, owner of the family-operated restaurant, called Peterson in a panic. Displaying courage and character rarely if ever displayed by a cop, Peterson acted on behalf of the interests of his employer, telling Broadhead that “The only way we’re going to be able to solve this is if you fire me.”
The owner agreed, and shortly thereafter posted a contrite announcement to the company’s Facebook page that read like a public confession wrung from a Soviet dissident during the Moscow Show Trials:
“We are disgusted to hear the opinions of our FORMER employee. Fortunately we live in a country that gives us freedom of speech. Unfortunately it can also hurt people who are innocent. … We do respect our law enforcement and appreciate all the work and sacrifices you make to keep us safe.”
In addition to terminating her loyal employee for an opinion he had expressed on his own time, Broadbent offered free meals to law enforcement officers, who – as members of the tax-devouring class – already dine at the expense of others.
That gesture didn’t earn the approval of Utah resident Cindy Moss, the aunt of 22-year-old Darrien Hunt, who was recently gunned down by police in Saratoga Springs.
At the time, Hunt was carrying a replica sword. The officers who murdered him, reciting from the familiar catechism of self-justification, claimed that they acted to prevent “harm” to bystanders, none of whom was in any way alarmed or threatened by Hunt. In similar fashion, the officers claimed that Hunt had “lunged” at them with the sword – yet somehow managed to be shot six times in the back.
The police account was predictably dishonest, self-contradictory, and inconsistent with both witness testimony and physical evidence – and it was just as predictably ratified by the Utah County DA’s office, which ruled the murder a “justifiable homicide.” In addition to avoiding prosecution, Hunt’s killers can now stop by Leslie’s Family Tree diner for a free meal anytime they please. Such are the perks of being part of the killer elite.
“My sister still hasn’t been able to pay for her son’s funeral,” complained Moss in a message to Broadhead, “and you are giving a free meal to the guys who killed her son because they were cowards and created the death of an innocent man!”
The same offer is open to the SWAT operatives who recently killed Jose Calzada after the dejected resident of Roy, Utah called a suicide prevention hotline. The Weber County Attorney’s Office is treating the killing as a case of “suicide-by-cop.”
The officers who killed Hunt and Calzada are on paid vacation, which means they have plenty of time to visit Leslie’s Family Tree and get a free steak dinner. Peterson, who expressed his outrage over such insouciant, privileged violence in an admittedly ill-advised fashion, is scraping to get by while looking for a new job.
After Peterson was fired, the restaurant’s Facebook page, which had been cluttered with hateful and threatening comments from police officers, was similarly littered with messages of triumphant approval.
“You did the right thing getting rid of him,” gloated Officer Joseph Valdora. “Thanks for supporting the folks who keep us all safe” – “all,” that is, except for Darrien Hunt, Jose Calzada, and others whose names are inscribed in the ever-growing roster of innocent police victims.
“I commend and appreciate Leslie’s [sic] in taking the appropriate action and terminating Shawn Peterson,” wrote Randy Rogers, a “Texas Peace Officer.”
“We do indeed live in a great country that affords us great freedoms,” declared “a Southern California LEO.” “These freedoms do not, however, exempt us from accountability when we choose to exercise them recklessly.”
“Very happy to see that Leslie’s Family Tree has decided to protect itself from its own employee,” remarked Officer David Cobb. “She did `the right thing,’ and has shown everyone that while freedom of speech is essential to us all, Leslie has demonstrated that there are consequences for one’s actions.”
Of course, every police officer claims to be endowed with “qualified immunity,” the purpose of which is to protect himself from the “consequences of [his] actions” when they result in actual injury to an innocent person. While Peterson’s Facebook post could properly be described as offensive, it inflicted no demonstrable injury to anybody – apart from wounding the unwarranted pride that police officers feel in their disreputable profession.
One of the comments condemning Peterson, and commending his boss for firing him, was posted by Ed Diaz, a retired New Jersey police sergeant who used his own Facebook page to post a meme celebrating the shooting death of Michael Brown. The photo displayed a barroom sign beneath a Coors Light logo advertising the “Michael Brown special – 6 shots for $12.00”
People in the racket called “law enforcement” consider the reckless exercise lethal force by police to be a public service, but the uninhibited exercise of free speech in criticizing their profession to be a crime.
“This is absolutely disgusting,” wrote Christine Heathman on the diner’s Facebook page. “Shawn’s behavior is a threat to law enforcement and he should be fired and if we’re lucky he should go to jail.”
Apparently, the bold and valiant badasses who supposedly risk their incomparably valuable lives to hold criminal violence at bay require protection against nasty Facebook comments.
There is actually a precedent, of sorts, for prosecuting someone for online criticism of the police. Earlier this year, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals overturned the conviction of Thomas Smith, who had been charged by an exceptionally inventive prosecutor with “disorderly conduct and unlawful use of a computerized communication system.” Smith’s supposed crime was referring to police in the tiny town of Arena, Wisconsin as “f*****g racist bastards.”
Rather than considering the strong possibility that Smith’s assessment was correct, a jury quickly convicted him following a perfunctory trial. The appeals court sensibly ruled that while Smith’s remarks were uncouth, they didn’t constitute a “true threat” or “fighting words” under existing precedents that supposedly justify an exception to First Amendment protections. Despite the fact that his conviction was vacated, Smith was still abducted at gunpoint, shackled, fingerprinted, caged, and forced to endure a lengthy and expensive legal ordeal – and is left with an arrest on his record that will probably cloud his employment prospects – because he had offended the tender sensibilities of armed “public servants” who threaten and exercise violence as an occupation.
Shawn Peterson is not the first person gainfully employed in the productive sector to be fired as the result of a social media campaign by police targeting his employer.
Ashley Warden lost her job as a waitress at an Oklahoma City Chili’s restaurant in May 2013 following an anti-police Facebook post – a photo of sheriff’s deputies with the comment,
“Stupid cops better hope I’m not their server FDP.” The restaurant fired Warden following a social media pressure campaign of the sort that later led to the termination of Shawn Peterson from his job.
“This is what she posts and what she chooses to post during Law Enforcement Week when we are honoring those who have died in service to our citizens – I think that’s pathetic,” pouted Sheriff John Whetsel, who claimed that Warden had “threatened” his officers. Warden “doesn’t have a clue about who they are or what they do or the service they provide,” Whetsel continued.
As it happens, Warden’s appropriately contemptuous view of law enforcement was informed by the “service” provided by Piedmont Police Officer Ken Qualls, who wrote her a $2,500 ticket for “public urination” after her 3-year-old son tried to relieve himself in the family’s front yard.
The Warden family resides on a two-and-a-half acre plot in a small, rural town. When Dillan, the toddler, pulled down his pants, Qualls – who had been lurking nearby – screamed up to the home in his cruiser and announced to that he was issuing a citation, despite the fact that the child hadn’t actually completed the act.
As disgruntled “customers” of the “service” Qualls provided, the Wardens contacted his employer, who said, in essence, “Sucks to be you.” After the family informed the media of what had happened, the ticket was dismissed. A few days later, Qualls was fired by the town council – not for what he had done to the Warden family, of course, but because of negative press coverage his behavior had attracted to the city government. That is to say, he was fired because he offended the only clientele he was expected to please.
Qualls had spent 18 years as a police officer – and already qualified for a pension – which means that he most likely has never had an honest job and wasn’t facing destitution, however much he deserves it.
Unlike Shawn Peterson, who acted on behalf of his employer, Qualls displayed the bottomless self-preoccupation that typifies his profession byfiling a lawsuit against Police Chief Alex Oblein and the City of Piedmont. In doing so he acted on the assumption that he had a property right in a well-compensated and stress-free job as a practitioner of state-licensed violence.