Recent news reminds us that politically incorrect speech is worse than murder.
Police rounded up a gang of rogue ATV riders. In the struggle one rider was shot in the foot. And then the system went off script.
A Massachusetts State Police officer could face charges for the shooting. He’s already suspended without pay. Not for shooting off his gun. For shooting off his mouth. Reckless discharge of a weapon wouldn’t make a prosecutor blink. Any criminal charges will be pretexts in the same way that a traffic stop for touching a white line or 66 in a 65 zone is a pretext.
The officer’s real crime was speaking his mind online. Ever wade into the comments section of a poorly moderated news site? His posts on the MassCops forum were like that.
The Boston Globe cried “racist!” To writers at the Globe, racism is criticizing welfare recipients. Racism is using the word “scumbag” to describe somebody who tried to run over a police officer. Racism is criticizing Roxbury. The Globe didn’t print, and I didn’t find, any overt statements about race, but that doesn’t matter. The word “racist,” linguist John McWhorter observed, has evolved from an objective statement to a subjective statement. From what you did to what I say your motive must have been. In contemporary Massachusetts, crude and disrespectful language about city dwellers is racism.
The Globe cried “racist!” and people in power, who are Globe readers rather than Herald readers, perked up their ears and obeyed. If he’d shot some guy in the back it would be a good shoot. Aggravated domestic assault might have earned him in a paid vacation. But an empty charge of racism is as bad as failing to make ticket quota. You’re fired.
It’s like the case in Springfield I mentioned. An officer said people shouldn’t block roads if they didn’t want to get run over. It would have gone unnoticed — lots of people say that online — except the victim was considered a martyr in the fight against white supremacists. Any criticism of her makes you worse than Adolf Hitler and Thomas Jefferson combined. (When I was young it was traditional to call your opponents Nazis — Godwin’s Law — but in recent years you say your opponents support slavery.)
If these disciplinary actions were part of a general housecleaning of bad cops I’d say good riddance, but they aren’t. Nothing has really changed. Police who don’t get professional courtesy are usually reinstated by arbitrators. Massachusetts law still protects State Police officers from liability for civil rights violations. Police are still taught to use traffic stops as pretexts to go fishing (“going beyond the traffic violation”). Statistics suggest they prefer to fish in dark waters.
A city police chief thought that Massachusetts’ civil rights law was teaching criminals to hold their tongues. As the law is applied, if you say a bad word during a crime of violence you get charged with a hate crime no matter what your motive. I guess we’re going to teach our police to think it but don’t say it and for sure don’t put it in writing. Lawyers teach us, if it’s not on the record it didn’t happen.
The effort to protect our delicate ears from rude language is not going to give us a better police force. I’m much more worried about our delicate bones.
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