- "Social justice is nothing more than racism," wrote SPD Officer Sam Byrd on his Twitter feed, in one of many tweets disparaging blacks, gays, and the Department of Justice.
Another day, another reminder that the Seattle Police Department needs a social media policy. Above you'll see a tweet that a source within the SPD identified as coming from East Precinct officer Sam Byrd. We'll come back to more of Byrd's tweets about race, gays, and Obama in a moment. But first let's consider a Facebook page identified as Byrd's.
On January 29, one day after The Stranger published Officer Cynthia's Whitlatch's racially inflammatory Facebook comments, a Facebook user named Sam Byrd wrote, "Apparently, due to my employment, this is about all I'm allowed to post, so here you go." The image accompanying these remarks: cute puppies and kittens. The user added in the comments: "Clearly the 1st amendment does not apply to my kind."
- Byrd complained about not being able to say what he wanted on Facebook the day after revelations of Officer Cynthia Whitlatch's inflammatory racial comments.
The same SPD source that confirmed Byrd's Twitter postings also confirmed this Facebook feed belongs to Byrd. (The Stranger shared screengrabs of the Facebook and Twitter postings with Sean Whitcomb, spokesperson for the SPD, but Whitcomb has not responded to a request for comment.)
In response to that "all I'm allowed to post" Facebook offering from Byrd, another Facebook member who uses the same profile picture as Cynthia Whitlatch's old account—and her first two initials—left this comment: "Yay! Doggies! That's all I get to say."
Another commenter joked: "I find your post of kittens and puppies discriminatory and will be reporting you to your employer immediately." Byrd responded, "THATS the Seattle reaction I was looking for!"
Now, back to Byrd's Twitter feed.
The @sb1579 Twitter feed was, until recently, listed under Sam Byrd's name. It is a noxious motherlode of unrelenting negativity, with the exception of a few positive shout-outs to Sarah Palin. (Here's a screenshot in case the specific tweets I'm about to mention get taken down completely. Click on them to make them bigger.)
In the feed, which has since been made private, Byrd complains of the following: "the Feds will look for any reason to take over local law enforcement. If the facts aren't there, the facts are fabricated"; there are "no repercussions for crime" in Seattle; gays in Seattle "have more rights and protections than I do"; Mexico is a "third world cesspool"; "social justice is nothing more than racism"; Jay-Z or Beyonce is a "blatant racist"; Barack Obama "know[s] more about basketball than foreign policy"; that Marshawn Lynch cannot "speak properly"; that the Department of Justice will "fabricate evidence" in its investigation of police brutality in Ferguson; that local protesters don't protest "when blacks kill blacks by the thousands every year"; Macklemore is an "imbecile" for protesting the death of Mike Brown; people should "get over" the Washington Redskins' team name; Al Sharpton is a "racist"; "People are too busy looting" for the cops' side of the story to be told in Ferguson; and "There's no incentive to own a business or shop in Seattle" because of the new minimum wage law.
Reached by phone this morning at the East Precinct—the same precinct where Whitlatch was stationed—Byrd told me, "I don't feel comfortable speaking to you." I told him I was a reporter seeking to confirm, as I did with Officer Christopher Hall in September, whether the social media postings belonged to a police officer with the same name. "I can appreciate that," he said.
But then he claimed, "I honestly don't know who I'm talking to," and added, "I have no interest in speaking to the media."
Minutes later, both the Facebook profile and his tweets were changed from public to private.
As mentioned earlier, the postings show that the sooner the SPD puts in place a thorough social media policy—one that comports with the city's Race and Social Justice Initiative and makes clear what its officers can post online without undermining public trust in the department—the better.
A revised social media policy has, contrary to KIRO 7's suggestion, been under development since last summer. "It's not anything new" that was prompted by Whitlatch's comments, SPD spokesman Whitcomb told me on Wednesday. But he wouldn't say when we should expect the new policy to go into effect.
The current policy is a one-page memo (PDF) from former chief John Diaz, dating back to 2011, advising employees to use "common sense." There's nothing in the memo to indicate that racism or demonstrating bias—SPD is currently training its officers in bias-free policing—is unacceptable in online postings.
Judging by this compilation from the Marshall Project, SPD is far from the only department grappling with troubling Facebook posts by officers—some of whom have been fired for them in states around the country.