The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports today that a third Little Rock police recruit has been fired for having a social media page with a post in which a racial slur, most likely the word “nigga,” appeared.

My opinion: Each decision was an overreaction.


In the first, a white recruit, Brandon Schiefelbein, was fired for having a photo on his page of a sleeping military friend (black) with a line from a black comedian’s repertoire, “Go night, night nigga.” He said his friend took no offense. He apologized to a black recruit who was offended. The post was removed. I said then and I say again that white people venture onto dangerous territory in using racial epithets even if they are commonly used by black people and even if in a context that, to me, clearly wasn’t meant to be offensive. But a firing offense?

In the second, Brandon Gurley, the black recruit who complained about the white recruit’s Facebook post, was fired. He, too, had used the word in a Facebook post (as have  tens of thousands if not millions of black people, emulating street talk heard any time you turn on TV for an urban drama or play rap music.)  It was another mistake in judgment by Police Chief Kenton Buckner, who already has provided legitimate reasons for unhappiness at the Black Police Officers Association for structural racism in the department (assignments and promotion and financial incentives for the majority white force to live in the suburbs so they need not attend majority black city schools or live in this crime-ridden city).


Now, in the latest, a black recruit, Katrina Jones, has been fired because — after all officers were instructed to clean up social media posts — she apparently overlooked the use of an offensive word in a post done when she was SIXTEEN YEARS OLD!

This is nuts.


The firings have been dressed up with additional justification, such as disobeying an order. But they boil down to being associated publicly with a coarse word, that’s regrettably in common usage. (It gets murkier. I just saw a lengthy debate on social media about the difference in saying “nigga” and the “hard ER word.”)

But know this: in the Little Rock police department you can be fired for using a common street word on your social media account when you were 16, but not for lying to superiors about bad judgment as a police officer in use of deadly force (think Ralph Breshears, who retired two months after unjustified use of a gun in a car theft and, apparently, not telling the truth about circumstances. He’d been fired once before, but reinstated, for his account of an arrest.) To complete this particular bit of irony, Breashears is being championed by Jeff Session’s Justice Department as a victim of racial bias because he was passed over for a new assignment in 2016 by a black superior who apparently remarked at the time she was tired of lily-white squads in the police department. She, too, should have been more careful about how she phrases things. But I think racial makeup of squads and hierarchy are important in a city where the majority of the citizens are people of color, but the police force is predominantly white. The chief is black but he seems to think more in line with the white-run Fraternal Order of Police than the BPOA.

If there’s a problem about the institutional treatment of and by Little Rock police officers (particularly, say, when they shoot people of color), Ralph Breashears’ “problem” falls pretty low on the list of concerns. Let’s start with the suspension of a black sergeant, Willie Davis, a BPOA officer, for complaining about use of racial slurs.