At a time when relations between the police and the Black community are as sensitive as ever, former and current police officers in New York use a website to post racist and offensive comments that let the world know the ugliness that flows through the minds of at least some of the force when they are on duty.
It is an astoundingly tone-deaf display of insensitivity that NYPD brass claim they are powerless to stop. Called Thee Rant, such a website in times like these is akin to shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater.
Pro Publica, the investigative journalism nonprofit, published a report on Thee Rant yesterday that reveals the stunning regularity with which racist posts appear on the police site. It raises the question of how much responsibility the police should bear for trying to create a harmonious climate with the people they are paid to serve.
If cops feel no compunction about displaying their racism, how much could they possibly care what the residents of Black and Hispanic communities feel about them?
At the top of the site, Thee Rant prominently features images of slain cops Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. But wasn’t it the climate of hate and distrust that incited gunman Ismaaiyl Brinsley to execute them at point-blank range last December in Brooklyn as they sat in their patrol car?
Postings on the site regularly refer to Black people as apes—including President Obama, called “the ape in the White House,” and Chirlane McCray, New York Mayor de Blasio’s wife, referred to as “the ape they call the mayor’s wife.”
According to ProPublica, in one posting a retired officer says one of the blessings of retirement is not having to work the Puerto Rican Day parade, with its “old obese tatted up women stuffed into outfits that they purchased or shoplifted at the local Kmart store.” In another one, a Middle Eastern cab driver who was berated by an officer is termed a “third worlder” who should have his “head split open.”
“It’s very disturbing stuff. Outrageous stuff,” Stephen Davis, the chief spokesman for the NYPD, told ProPublica. “We see it. It’s a problem.”
“Monitoring these things is challenging,” he continued. “There are privacy issues involved. We can’t go and peel back email names and tags and try to find out who these people are.”
But more pressing than the question of how NYPD brass could allow the site to stay up is the issue of why officers would think it was okay to portray their department as a beehive of racial hostility. The site was created in 1999 by a former NYPD officer, Ed Polstein. The site claims on its home page that it gets 120,000 page views daily. Users reportedly have to input a valid NYPD ID in order to post. The home page also announces quite prominently, “We have the right to rant!”
The comments on the site give the media an easy source of stories following a racially explosive incident. After Walter Scott was killed by North Charleston police officer Michael Slager, stories hit the web containing some of the ugly comments that were posted on Thee Rant as an illustration of the racial animus in the hearts of police officers.
“The perpetrator was wanted for non support and stole the cops lazer and ran like a typical ni**aaa,” a story on Business Insider quoted user DisGraziato as writing on The Rant. “Aren’t police allowed to shoot a fleeing felon?? Eight shots in the back. A good shoot if you ask me..”
“Who cares,” wrote user otjkid. “One less azzbole that comes through the drive through on foot.”
But apparently there are officers who see the harm being done on Thee Rant.
“I really have a hard time believing that some of the people on this board are cops,” user woodshampu wrote, according to Business Insider. “The level of ignorance, stupidity, and arrogance is breathtaking.”
Though NYPD officials say they can’t do anything about the site, there is precedence for police officers being punished for comments made online. ProPublica provides the example of an officer in a St. Louis suburb who was fired after posting racist remarks about the protests in Ferguson. In addition, San Francisco officials fired eight officers after they exchanged racist and homophobic text messages.
But in New York, Thee Rant rolls on, souring on a daily basis any efforts by the NYPD to improve public relations.
“We don’t know how many active police officers are on it,” NYPD spokesman Davis told ProPublica. “If we did identify active officers speaking on the site in that capacity they would be disciplined for violating policy.”
“Unfortunately,” he added, “it’s one of these things that we don’t have ownership of. We don’t have any control over it. Some say that’s good, others maybe say it’s bad.”
After Eric Garner was killed by police officer Daniel Pantaleo last summer, this is what users were saying on the site:
“A more accurate headline would be ‘Non Compliant Fat Bastard Gets Just Due In Resisting Law Enforcement Officers,'” said one post.
“Yes, they’ll pay off the ‘family,'” said another. “It’s a lot cheaper than a riot…And therein lies the problem…The cities of America are held hostage by the strong-arm tactics of the savages.”