Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Watch what you say

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The first amendment addresses all things pertaining to freedom of expression. As amendments go it seems somewhat cumbersome because it appears to have freedom of speech, press and religion all thrown together with the right to assemble and the right to petition. That does not diminish the importance of these rights. The fact of the matter is that this amendment is the cornerstone of our democratic republic. It’s sacred.

Nobody can be punished for exercising this right. People can’t be prohibited from expressing themselves. That’s why every year the KKK gets to hold rallies. There are some limits as to how one can express themselves but those limitations only apply when the rights of other people are infringed upon. When expression becomes harassment the first amendment has been abused.

However, there is no provision addressing the issue of public accountability. When you exercise your right to free expression you open yourself up to varies consequences. You can’t be imprisoned for exercising your rights but there a big difference between punishment and accountability.

In Columbus, Ohio racism doesn’t seem to be that big a problem. Mayor Mike Coleman enjoys tremendous popularity and he happens to be African American. He’s a career politician bent on climbing the political ladder so he is not nearly as effective as he should be but all things considered he is a decent mayor. He’s done a fair job and his administration’s only serious scandals have involved his alcohol dependent wife and even her struggles have been handled fairly. Nobody has passed undue judgment.

Columbus, however, is no racial utopia. Racism is alive and well. It’s practiced on a daily basis but it’s covert. White people in Columbus don’t have the guts to express their true feelings unless they believe they are in the company of like-minded people. In many ways this racism is worse than overt bigotry because it has evolved to survive the so-called politically correct era in which we live.

That’s why Susie Purtee comes as a surprise. Susie Purtee is a patrol officer for the Columbus Police Department. Recently WBNS and The Columbus Dispatch reported that Susie Purtee published some racially insensitive commentary on the internet with her sister. In this video rant Susie and her sister call themselves the “Subie Sisters” and discuss a variety of topics ranging from Jews to African Americans, to Hispanics. If there’s a problem it can be attributed to some filthy minority and the Subie Sisters explain how to make that connection with the intellectual savvy only inbred white trash can deliver. The fact that these two old war horses managed to post videos on the internet is quite a surprise. I would have pegged them as the opening act for Toby Keith.

Now Susie is a cop, a fact she believes makes her an authority on the state of affairs in the world today, which creates a public relations nightmare for the Columbus Police Department. It’s bad enough dealing with day to day complaints but now there is proof in streaming video that at least one cop on the payroll might be predisposed to prejudice. That places every case Susie Purtee has been involved with in doubt. City officials are reviewing the matter to see what action should be taken and the FOP has already stated that it supports Susie Purtee’s constitutional rights and will defend her if action is taken.

The problem is that Susie’s constitutional rights do not guarantee her continued employment. When you open your mouth you take your chances. I know that everything I publish on the internet can be reviewed by anybody at any time. I accept the fact that I can be held accountable for expressing my opinions in a public forum. That means my boss might not care for my thoughts on George W. Bush and subsequently fire me. My employment is not guaranteed under contract and even if it was there are ways to show cause. I’m a representative of my employer and my blogs could affect business if clients read them.

Police have to be held to a higher standard. They carry badges and guns. They have the ability to arrest people and enter private property. The constitutional measures that prohibit civil rights abuses by law enforcement officers are retroactive. Ultimately police are granted the authority to temporarily override the Bill of Rights. When a patrol officer asks to search your vehicle he is asking you to forfeit your rights but if you refuse he can claim exigent circumstances and conduct the search anyway. If that officer is Susie Purtee the exigent circumstances could be tied to ethnicity.

We can’t have racist cops. There’s too much at stake. A racist car salesman might not be inclined to throw in floor mats, a racist realtor might steer non-white buyers away from certain developments but a racist cop might shoot a black suspect when the similar white suspect would live to run another day. Not too long ago a warrant was served on a deranged Somali man living in Columbus. He refused to drop a knife that he was waving around and officers shot him dead. The shooting was justified but a few months later a white man was taken down with non-lethal stun guns. Race might not have been a factor but when somebody like Susie Purtee comes along you have to wonder.

Shame on the FOP for pledging support. There are too many good cops out there for the Fraternal Order to waste time defending the thugs, hooligans and bigots who besmirch the reputation of law enforcement. Instead of defending Purtee, the FOB should be lobbying to get her fired. The so-called “blue wall” is precisely why so many people lack respect for police. Americans don’t trust cops because they refuse to hold themselves to the higher standard their station demands. Susie Purtee’s rights are not being trampled.

When it comes to employment the only right we have is to pursue it. We have a right to be judged on our qualifications and our character. Potential employers aren’t supposed to allow race, gender or creed to affect the process but nobody is entitled to a job. You have to earn your living. Susie Purtee earned the privilege of working as a police officer because she passed all the tests and met all of the requirements but her continued employment is conditional. By publishing her racist views on the internet she brought shame upon her profession and betrayed the trust of the public she works for. She must be held accountable.

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