Online Insults Lead to Calls for Inquiries of N.Y.C. Police
By WILLIAM GLABERSON and AL BAKER
Politicians and officials criticized the New York Police Department on Tuesday and called for investigations after the release of comments on Facebook in which users claiming to be officers heaped scorn on revelers at the annual West Indian American Day Parade in Brooklyn. But, despite repeated requests, one person refused to comment: the police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly.
Mr. Kelly did not break his silence even as derision swirled around the Facebook conversation, which had been followed by as many as 1,200 people and included references to “savages” and “animals.”
Throughout the day, Mr. Kelly’s chief spokesman, Paul J. Browne, repeated a one-line response to requests for an interview with the commissioner: “The Internal Affairs Bureau has undertaken an investigation of the matter.”
The New York Times reported Tuesday that the Facebook page’s existence had been noted during a trial in Brooklyn, and that the page had disappeared from public view just days after a defense lawyer had found it, but not before he saved all the data.
On Tuesday, some officials called for an investigation by an independent agency rather than the department’s own Internal Affairs Bureau. Those officials cited a season of bad news and black eyes for the department, including charges against eight officers accused of gun smuggling and against 16 others accused of ticket fixing.
“There’s a problem that needs to be fixed,” said Jumaane D. Williams, a black city councilman. “We can’t address the problem if no one wants to admit that the problem’s there,” said Mr. Williams, who was handcuffed and held Sept. 5 after the parade in what he said was an episode fueled by bias. The Police Department later said it would discipline three officers in the matter.
This fall, the defense lawyer preparing for the trial of a Brooklyn man on gun possession charges discovered the “No More West Indian Day Detail” Facebook group. One of its members was their client’s arresting officer.
Once publicized, the group’s language was quickly condemned.
“Disgusting,” the city public advocate, Bill de Blasio, said.
“Reprehensible,” said the Manhattan borough president, Scott M. Stringer.
“Racist,” said the Brooklyn borough president, Marty Markowitz.
William C. Thompson, a candidate for mayor, said he hoped the comments would turn out not to have been by actual police officers. “If they are, it’s disgraceful,” he said. Indeed, it is difficult to prove that those calling themselves officers were so, or using real names, though The Times did match many names with those of officers.
Mr. Kelly has drawn high marks for his antiterrorism efforts and is often spared criticism in a city where other officials are regularly pilloried. But that was not true in the Facebook matter.
“I don’t believe there is a clear message coming from the top that this behavior is unacceptable,” Letitia James, a Brooklyn council member, said.
Especially among some minority officials, who have faulted policies like “stop-and-frisk” searches as unfairly aimed at their members, Mr. Kelly was the subject of rough language. “Somebody is not doing the job that needs to be done,” N. Nick Perry, a Brooklyn assemblyman who is chairman of the state’s Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators, said in a statement.
Tuesday evening, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s spokesman, Stu Loeser, released a statement that echoed the message at Police Headquarters. “The Police Department is investigating,” the statement said, “and will handle the matter appropriately, as they always do. If the comments reported are accurate and from the officers, they are completely unacceptable.”
Some current and former police officers also expressed anger. They said the attention to what some officers might have said online missed the point: there has been violence at the parade and officers have been injured.
In Brooklyn on Tuesday, Tyrone Johnson, whose court case brought the Facebook conversation to light, seemed perplexed by the debate. He said he was grateful to his lawyers, Benjamin Moore and Paul Lieberman, for discovering the Facebook material, which he said contributed to his acquittal.
“I’m just glad my case is over with,” Mr. Johnson said.
“Whatever could be done for everybody else,” he added, “that’s good, too.”