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Cambridge Police's need to maintain public trust outweighed cop's right to post that George Floyd was 'a career criminal, a thief and druggie,' judge rules

Cambridge Day reports a federal judge this week dismissed a lawsuit by a Cambridge cop who was disciplined for a Facebook post he made while off duty in which he made disparaging remarks about George Floyd in 2021.

In her ruling, US District Court Judge Angel Kelley acknowledged that Sgt. Brian Hussey has a First Amendment right to speak his mind, that:

Discouraging Hussey and other officers from participating as citizens in discussions about public safety, police brutality, and racial profiling would deprive the public of a valuable viewpoint.

But, she continued,

Here, the Court is persuaded that the Defendants' strong interest in maintaining public trust outweighs the interest Hussey had in making his Facebook post. The timing here is a crucial factor - Hussey's statements came mere months after Floyd's killing galvanized public criticism of policing and racial disparities, including in the City of Cambridge and the greater Boston area. The vast majority of protests were peaceful, yet departments across the country met many of those same protests with tear gas, arrests, flash grenades, and more - sometimes with fatal consequences for demonstrators. Some of the protests turned violent and the ensuing riots set ablaze local businesses, restaurants, news buildings, and even a police department building. A number of police officers sustained injuries during such incidents. In the weeks that followed, as the names of more Black persons, like Breonna Taylor, became synonymous with police brutality and impunity, it poured fuel on the collective fury against police departments and ignited new rounds of protests. These demonstrations were often accompanied by calls to reform, defund, and even abolish police departments. It is thus understandable that in the months that followed, the Cambridge's Police Department's sensitivity to public perception was heightened, especially regarding discussions related to victims of police violence.

The effectiveness of the Cambridge Police Department, and any police department, depends on the maintenance of public trust. Acting in a biased manner, or creating a perception thereof, undermines that trust. ... The centrality of trust is highlighted by the Cambridge Police Department’s Mission Statement, which describes the Department's mission as partnering "with the community to solve problems and improve public safety in a manner that is fair, impartial, transparent, and consistent."

Hussey also argued his post did not undermine public trust in the Cambridge PD because only his Facebook friends can see his page and he removed the post in question a couple hours later. Kelley, however, noted that in the time it was up, somebody took a screenshot and then forwarded it to the local NAACP chapter, which then contacted Police Chief Branville Bard. She wrote:

Bard was not obligated to wait until the issue developed into a broader controversy, particularly given his concerns about the backlash the Facebook post could generate and his assessment that its characterization of George Floyd undermined the Department’s goals [of maintaining public trust].

And so:

Ensuring the free participation of the people in discussions of public affairs is of paramount importance - including for individuals who are employed by the public. The Court recognizes a limited exception to that principle here because the Defendants' disciplinary actions were reasonably calculated to prevent disruption to the Cambridge Police Department, via a further breakdown of trust from community members, that Plaintiff's comments could have caused.

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Comments

The appeal will be interesting.

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Nothing posted to the Internet should be considered PRIVATE; Especially to "Facebook" of all things.

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what else he deleted from his facebook that only his like-minded friends could see.

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Who’s surprised that the judge in Cambridge works for the police dept’s interests and not the constitution?

Good old massachusetts

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No federal court in Cambridge.

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It's "The People's Republic of Cambridge," not quite a police state.

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Please inform us which of his constitutional rights you think were violated. Did someone try to quarter soldiers in his home without permission maybe?

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dismissed a lawsuit by a Cambridge [?????] who was

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Sorry about that, fixed.

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understand that the obvious conclusion most readers would draw from his post is its tacit continuation, "and therefore deserved to be cruelly murdered by police."

If you think he was going somewhere else with that post, please tell me where you think that is. I'll wait.

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of why the judge ruled as she did.

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Cambridge police budget is 73 million dollars a year. Just INSANE! I am not a defund guy but Lordy!

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Are you going to pay to sit in a locked, dark booth in Central Square and play candy crush?

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if it was 74 million, that might be enough to pull someone over for blowing through a crosswalk once in a while

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I'd gladly take someone's side mirror off with a Louisville Slugger for doing that to me for free.

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I don't excel at subtlety. I didn't hazard a guess as to whether or not he tacitly endorsed Chauvin snuffing him out, but it would have been nice if he had clarified with "who didn't deserve to get choked to death by a cop on his 17th strike for all that."

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“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” - John Adams

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Maintaining trust is not an exception to freedom of speech.

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And in very narrow circumstances, like this. It's what the whole ruling was about.

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He doesn't have the right to be a cop though. So, he's welcome to some trade-offs. His choice. What he doesn't get to have is both the freedom to say things that would make the public fear the protectors they hire to protect society AND be one of those protectors. He's welcome to leave the police force and keep spouting his bullshit all he wants. While he wears the badge and the power that the public gave him, he, at a minimum, has to keep his fucking mouth shut about his bad ideas. You can call it "maintaining trust", he'll know it as "maintaining his job".

His choice. The judge is just making that explicitly clear.

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If you post on Facebook, “I just got an engineering management job that is far beyond my competence. I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m going to make 250 grand a year!”, I think your new employers are entitled to reconsider their hiring decision.

When a police officer’s speech makes it clear that he thinks that his evaluation of a suspect’s character entitles him to act as judge, jury, and executioner, that is clear evidence that he should not be a police officer. He is not forbidden from making such a declaration; nor is the police department forbidden from considering it as evidence in its evaluation of his suitability for the job. Are stupid responses at a job interview protected speech?

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The cop's facebook post was:

“This is what its come to ‘honoring’ a career criminal, a thief and druggie . . . the future of this country is bleak at best.”

which isn't an endorsement of police violence at all. The Trump era (2016-2020) was a time by social justice fundamentalism the same way the McCarthy era was a time of anti-communist fundamentalism. Any statement portraying George Floyd (or anyone non-white shot by cop) in a negative light was interpreted as supporting police brutality. No nuance allowed. The judge seems to share that mindset.

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It's 32 pages, so it's long, but she spends a fair amount of time discussing the nuances of it all, and how to balance the rights of free speech by a cop at a time when things were getting very heated over this very issue.

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...by social justice fundamentalism the same way the McCarthy era was a time of anti-communist fundamentalism

what in the world does this mean?

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Translation: "Social justice bad"

You're welcome.

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An ellipsis usually mean that text has been omitted. So what's the missing bit? Or was he perhaps trying for a dramatic pause?

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that his post doesn't defend the murder, even by implication. I hadn't read it before. I think it is unnecessarily vituperative towards a murder victim, especially one that was murdered by an on-duty police officer, but that's a matter of taste. To me it doesn't suggest that Hussey can't be trusted to do his job.

Your rant about "social justice fundamentalism", on the other hand, like his about "the future of this country", is part of an attempt, conscious or otherwise, to resist any movement in the direction of protecting people like George Floyd from people like Derek Chauvin. Hussey's characterization of Floyd as "a career criminal, a thief and druggie" echoes the language of many others who have attempted to minimize or even justify Chauvin's crime, even if Hussey did not intend to do so. It is also inaccurate, as there is no evidence that Floyd had returned to crime since his release from prison in 2013, though that is not really relevant. Even if he had been a career criminal, what Chauvin did would have been murder.

It doesn't seem to me that Hussey's post justifies disciplinary action against him. But both he and you are wrong in thinking that the country has gone too far in preventing the unjust use of police power. It hasn't gone anywhere near far enough.

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The concept of Fundamentalism - in religion and law - is getting a bad reputation. Christian, Jewish, Islamic and Hindu fundamentalism are adding to that word connotations of violence and hatred. Which is unfortunate considering that Christian Fundamentalists of the early 20th C. included socialists. While William Jennings Bryant defended Fundamentalist based laws about teaching Evolution, he also was a socialist. He would make modern American Christian Fundamentalist leaders look like people greedier than Al Capone. So what better way to paint the idea of justice (call it social justice but it comes down to justice) as a bad thing than by calling it a kind of fundamentalism.

Making the claim interesting though is the equating of McCarthy hysteria with "anti-communist fundamentalism." I've never read of anti-communist fundamentalism. How does that even work? Were there nuanced anti-communists who looked at the subtlty of anti-communist hysteria, careful to apply the hysteria only where it is appropriate? Hysteria never connotes subtly or nuance so that does not make sense.

Clearly someone has taken doublespeak to heart.

George Orwell...if you are never given credit for anything else at least you will be remembered for centuries as the man who called out one of the most interesting and terrible abuses of language.

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Which is why he wasn't arrested or fined.

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Takeaway: Cops think it's acceptable to murder people because they have committed theft or have addiction problems. Got it.

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The appeal is bound to be intriguing.

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