Offensive text messages exchanged between police officers in the Los Angeles suburb of Torrance, California, have hit the news and brought a spotlight on systemic discriminatory practices within the department.
The Los Angeles Times broke the story about former officers charged with conspiracy and vandalism in connection to a swastika spray-painting on a citizen’s car. Cody Weldin and Christopher Tomsic were not only fired, but provided the first look at alleged text messages between them and other cops that featured offensive humor centered on themes of race, religion, and sexuality.
The text messages included anti-Semitic jokes, threats to assault members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and photos of Black men being lynched with the tagline “hanging with the homies,” CNN reports. These types of exchanges were shared between more than a dozen officers who are now on unpaid leave pending a full investigation by local and state attorneys’ general offices.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta stated this month: “The reports are very disturbing and we are committed to going wherever the facts lead and making sure we remedy the situation and get the Torrance Police Department on a corrective course of action.”
No officers are currently facing criminal charges connected to these text messages. However, the discovery has sparked the Los Angeles Times to revisit its documented history with the department.
In 1996, the L.A. Times reported, the DOJ investigated the Torrance Police Department. A deep dive into the department revealed that rookie cops were instructed to profile Blacks and to use acronyms when talking about them.
The feds discovered that the use of “two epithetic slogans … commonly used within the department. NIT stands for ‘N-gger in Torrance,’ they said; NITAD stands for a Black person spotted in Torrance ‘after dark.’” Testimony from one officer in the filing stated that rookies were told in training that there were two categories that African Americans: “street n**gers” or “upstanding Black citizens.” He also claimed that officers were told to pull over minority motorists for “no reason.”
The publication showed how difficult it was to prove that members of the force were racist 25 years ago. It may still be hard to prove in 2021.
According to The Orange County Register, lawyers for the two officers accused of the hate crime and whose phones had the text messages, are asking to have the messages tossed. The lawyers maintain that the search warrant issued to go through their phones was broad and violated California’s digital privacy law.
The presiding judge has not decided if the text messages would be considered as evidence and no word on if the other 13-15 officers will be fired for participating in the vulgar phone exchanges.
Further, no one has been fired for sending the texts. A probe into the officers’ history revealed almost 90 different cases connected to the cops in question, all of which have been dismissed.
According to CNN, the Los Angeles County DA has dismissed approximately 40 felony cases involving members of this small group of police. The Torrance City Attorney trumped that number, dismissing almost 50 misdemeanor charges connected to the lot. Now these cases, and others related to law enforcement’s abuse of power, are up for review.
The Los Angeles County public defender Ricardo Garcia commented, “It brings into question the credibility of these officers, right?”
George Gascón, the Los Angeles County District Attorney, believes so and is committed to reviewing cases against officers (including those in question) that allege racism, abuse of force, and cultural bias.
The D.A. has publicly reprimanded police-involved bigotry, whether on or off duty. In February, he issued a statement surrounding the sharing of a mock valentine card with George Floyd’s face on it, entitled “You Take My Breath Away.”
In part, his thoughts on the gag read, “Celebrating the murder of a Black man at the hands of police demonstrates a profound absence of humanity. The mock valentine underscores the highly problematic, and frankly, racist perceptions that pervade the law enforcement culture regarding the communities we are sworn to protect and serve.”
On June 12, he launched an independent team called the Factual Analysis Citizen Consulting Team (FACCT) to re-examine fatal use-of-force incidents by law enforcement officers (including as per the assistant chief of media relations for the D.A.’s office, Greg Risling, some of these officers).
“Significant concerns have been raised by law enforcement officials, civil rights attorneys, activists, and others regarding the handling of numerous police use-of-force cases,” the District Attorney affirmed. “In order to restore trust and move forward as a community, I am convening this group to thoroughly review the evidence and make recommendations on cases that we may need to examine more closely.”
Unlike the ’90s, there is an appearance of sincerity in the investigation from the city’s side. Yahoo! Sports states that Torrance Police have hired an outside law firm to conduct a review of the investigation.
“I am committed to accountability, and I will not tolerate any form of bigotry, racism, hate, or misconduct,” Chief Jeremiah Hart, the newly appointed Police Chief at the Torrance Police Department, said in a statement. “In partnership with Attorney General Bonta, I will ensure that needed changes are implemented to regain the public’s trust and confidence.”
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