A Newark Police Department (NPD) lieutenant is under investigation for allegedly referring to Mayor Ras Baraka as a primate on social media. The incident comes several months after the mayor signed an executive order establishing an independent civilian review board to monitor police misconduct.
Police are looking into a Facebook exchange between the lieutenant and a retired officer after receiving a screenshot of what may be the lieutenant’s personal page. The lieutenant reportedly received a photo of an ape with the caption “Lmfao….How’s your mayor?” The on-duty officer allegedly replied, “Exactly!!!!” and “Bring back Sharpaaaa!!!!!” — presumably referring to Mayor Sharpe James, who served as the city’s leader for 20 years.
According to Police Director Eugene Venable, the Newark Police Department’s social media policy prohibits officers from posting anything “which could possibly be misconstrued and reflects negatively on the department.” Information about criminal investigations is also banned from social media.
“The general order was created as the result of several embarrassing instances of online activity by members of the department that were quite racy and somewhat, quite frankly, borderline discriminatory…Violations of the order could result in disciplinary actions, including dismissal,” he told NJ Advance Media.
A Justice Department investigation released in 2014 recounted years of racial discrimination and civil rights violations in the NPD. In addition to 20 percent of the officers using excessive force, members of the force routinely stole property and disproportionately arrested black residents. African Americans constitute 54 percent of the city’s population but make up 79 percent of arrests. They are also “2.5 times more likely to be stopped than whites, 2.7 times more likely to be searched, and 3.1 times more likely to be frisked.”
The Facebook investigation comes three months after Baraka implemented a unique civilian oversight committee in response to the DOJ’s findings. Under consent decree, the NPD agreed to create an independent monitor after the DOJ discovered that only one of hundreds of excessive force complaints were sustained over a five-year period. Baraka signed the executive decree establishing the Newark Police Department Civilian Complaint Review Board in April. And unlike many police monitors in the country, members of the board can subpoena police records and enforce disciplinary actions — making the board one of the most progressive in the nation.
The social media exchange also sheds light on a pattern of racist correspondence among police officers. In Ferguson, police and court officials sent emails depicting President Obama as a chimpanzee, the First Lady as a bare-chested African woman, and mocked black residents for their speech. Officers from the San Francisco Police Department repeatedly sent the word “nigger” in a series of text messages, in addition to referring to a black person as a “monkey” and an “animal.” The Huffington Post also compiled a list of damning emails that were circulated in Louisiana in 2012.