On Wednesday, an array of national civil rights activists called for the firing of a prosecutor in California’s San Bernardino County, weeks after it came to light that the district attorney’s fffice had, in June, launched an investigation into numerous racist social media posts published by Deputy District Attorney Michael Selyem. The offending material included incendiary and violent remarks directed at U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), former first lady Michelle Obama, and others.
Representatives of 11 national civil rights organizations demanded that Selyem lose his job for posting such comments on his Facebook and Instagram accounts. In a letter to San Bernardino District Attorney Mike Ramos, which was released by the Washington-based Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, these activists also called for a “Conviction Review Unit to conduct an independent review of all prior and current cases handled” by Selyem to determine if any of his work was tainted by racism, as well as for an office-wide review of policies and practices during Selyem’s tenure. Selyem joined the county’s prosecutor’s office 12 years ago and is the lead prosecutor on gang-related crime.
“We write as representatives of the undersigned national civil rights organizations to express our grave concerns over recent revelations of intolerably bigoted and biased comments by a Deputy District Attorney in your office, and urge your swift action to ensure accountability,” the letter stated. “As recent media reports have indicated, Deputy District Attorney Michael Selyem has demonstrated a disturbing pattern of racist and sexist social media commentary aimed at women and people of color, including barely-veiled threats leveled at U.S. Representative Maxine Waters. The remarks represent a clear violation of professional ethics and basic norms of civility, and are categorically disqualifying of a law enforcement official charged with ensuring equal justice under law.”
According to reports earlier this month in the San Bernardino Sun, which first reported that the county’s prosecutors office was investigating the offending posts, Selyem targeted Waters, Obama, Mexican immigrants, and the victim of a police shooting in a series of online rants.
Among the more egregious examples was a Faceboook comment, posted by Selyem, that countenanced the murder of Waters: “Being a loud-mouthed cunt in the ghetto you would think someone wold have shot this bitch by now…”
Elsewhere, in an online dispute with someone regarding the police shooting of a civilian, Selyem wrote: “That shitbag got exactly what he deserved… You reap what you sow. And by the way go fuck yourself you liberal shitbag.”
In the wake of these disclosures, Selyem was placed on administrative leave. “The San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office does not condone hate, discrimination, or incitement of violence,” wrote Ramos, in a statement. “Our community and the entire criminal justice system depends on having fair, ethical, and unbiased prosecutors,” he added.
While the civil rights activists acknowledged the efforts taken by the district attorney’s office to address the matter, they made it clear in their letter that Ramos’ internal investigation was neither a sufficient nor expeditious means of resolving what the signatories deemed to be a clear-cut “dereliction of duty.”
“We call for a prompt resolution of that investigation, and for Mr. Selyem’s termination,” the letter stated.
In a news release announcing the letter, Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, condemned the need for the group to write the letter in the first place.
“Michael Selyem’s discriminatory and racist remarks underscore just how much more work remains to be done to eliminate the scourge of racial bias that infects our criminal justice system today,” Clarke said. “Action is needed now to restore the public’s confidence in an office that has been tainted buy the violent, discriminatory and vile remarks of one of its leaders.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network and another of the letter’s co-signers, joined in the call for Selyem’s immediate firing. “Keeping Deputy District Attorney Selyem on payroll after his disqualifying attacks on Americans of color and a respected U.S. Congresswoman shows the outrageous complacency of our law enforcement mechanisms in addressing even the most outright bigotry in our criminal justice system,” Sharpton said in the statement. “Failure to ensure accountability for his hate-filled remarks flies in the face of the office’s duty-bound obligation to uphold the letter and spirit of the law.”
In addition to Clarke and Sharpton, others signing the letter included: Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Marc Moral, president and chief executive of the National Urban League; Melanie Campbell, president and chief executive of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation; Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights; Fatima Goss Graves, president and chief executive of the National Women’s Law Center; Derrick Johnson, president and chief executive of the NAACP; Angela Rye, chief executive of IMPACT Strategies; Janice Mathis, executive director of the National Council of Negro Women, Inc.; and Brittany Packnett, co-founder of Campaign Zero.