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Boston cop suspended for offensive video

Clip suggests black people are police’s enemy

Jule Pattison-Gordon
Boston cop suspended for offensive video
Boston Police Commissioner Bill Evans participates in a weekly peace walk through Dudley Square.

Boston Police Commissioner William Evans declared on Thursday that he would suspend the Roxbury-based cop behind a racially-derogatory video that appeared to denigrate members of the district the officer is charged with serving. For many, the incident inflames long-standing fears that the police department cannot be trusted to treat people of color with respect and equality.

On the Web

DeAngelo’s video:

Transcript of DeAngelo’s interview with internal affairs officers:

Joseph DeAngelo Jr. is a patrol officer who has served in District B-2 for four and a half years. He created a mock buddy-cop movie trailer that implies black people are synonymous with crime. The trailer spoof introduces a white officer friend of DeAngelo’s and an injured dog as heroes “in the fight between good and evil.” The video closes with an image of black women in carnival costumes and the line, “This summer, black people have met their match.” DeAngelo told superiors he created the video during work hours and that the image of black men it included (directly prior to the carnival image) was a photo he took of residents in his district, according to June 12 interview transcripts released by the BPD. DeAngelo texted the video to friends within and outside the force, and it later reached the public.

“People already think the police don’t like them,” Rahsaan Hall, director of the racial justice program at the ACLU of Massachusetts, told the Banner. “Many people of color already think the police are racists. There’s this prevailing narrative and view in our communities that the police are not there to serve and protect us. Then we have a video like this come out and it overshadows those officers who are trying to make inroads and overcome perceptions.”

On June 15, DeAngelo was put on administrative leave. The BPD recently announced he will be suspended without pay for six months, with another six-months suspension held in abeyance for one year. DeAngelo would also be required to undergo sensitivity training and unconscious bias training and participate in community service.

Sufficient response?

Commissioner Evans told the Banner that meetings with community leaders and DeAngelo’s taking ownership of his guilt factored into BPD decision on punishment.

“He’s very remorseful. Very sincere. I met with a lot of community residents in the last two weeks. They agreed he deserved a second chance. They helped me make the decision,” Evans said. “He’s going to meet with community leaders. He’s going to meet with the NAACP, the Urban League. They’re going to see what kind of kid he is. Six months is severe discipline.”

Evans acknowledged that officers already undergo unconscious bias training in the academy. DeAngelo will undergo such training again.

However, not everyone feels safe with the idea of DeAngelo returning to the police force, says Larry Ellison, president of the Massachusetts Association Minority Law Enforcement Officers (MAMELO), based on what he has heard from members of the community.

“[Those who called in to MAMLEO] felt like, in a lot of ways, their voice is not being heard, and that if this had taken place in other parts of the city or with other detective groups, it would not have been the same,” Ellison told the Banner.

DeAngelo’s return presents some risks for how matters will be perceived, should DeAngelo in the future be involved in any incident involving a person of color, Ellison said.

“No one [I’ve heard from] has said they’re comfortable with this,” he said.

Ellison said that here, the BPD seemed to show a greater willingness to exercise alternative punishments to termination than it traditionally has done for incidents involving officers of color.

For some, the incident also calls up memories of former officer Justin Barrett, who called a black professor a “banana-eating jungle monkey” in 2009. Under the administration of then-Mayor Thomas Menino, Barrett was terminated.

Mayor Martin Walsh did not respond to a Banner request for comment by press deadline.

City Councilor Tito Jackson did not call for the officer’s termination but said whether DeAngelo should return to the district remains to be seen. He told the Banner that DeAngelo deserves to serve the full one-year suspension.

“His actions were unacceptable,” Jackson said. “The trust of the police department is paramount in importance to doing the work of the department, and this officer has harmed that trust, not only from the community, but he has harmed the trust with his fellow officers.”

Departmental issue

The incident also reveals a need for department-level reforms, Jackson said, such as comprehensive implicit bias training for all officers scheduled on a regular basis and a robust civilian review board with greater authority over investigation of internal affairs complaints and cases along with sanctions proposed by the BPD.

Tanisha Sullivan, president of the Boston Branch of the NAACP, said that DeAngelo’s actions demonstrate that current efforts to incorporate implicit bias training into the academy are not sufficient. Like Jackson, she called for department-wide racial bias training and expansion of the scope and authority of the Community Ombudsmen Oversight Panel in order to build trust and satisfy community concerns, along with disciplinary action for DeAngelo.

“[The incident] tells us is that despite previous efforts to incorporate implicit bias training into the Police Academy, there continues to be an entrenched issue with the racial culture and climate within the BPD specifically and Boston generally,” Sullivan said.

The ACLU’s Hall said DeAngelo’s behavior demonstrates issues of culture in the BPD, wherein an officer could believe that such behavior would be acceptable and go unpunished. The persistent racial homogeneity of the force may contribute to such an environment, Hall added, and noted that the incoming police class is 80 percent white.

“I’m less concerned about this individual officer’s behavior than I am about the culture that exists within the department where something like this would happen,” Hall said.

Hall said one important measure is for the BPD to take steps to get DeAngelo to comprehend structural racism and to develop his understanding of, and empathy for, the people in the district he intends to serve.

“He needs to serve in the communities that he’s policing, not [just] as a police officer but as a volunteer,” Hall said. “He needs to go the Boys and Girls Club and spend some time there. And spend time at a church that has families who are impacted by crimes, and also with the individuals who are accused of the crimes, and understand the complexity and the depth and the history and the beauty and the struggle and the victory that all exists in these communities.”

DeAngelo’s explanation

DeAngelo told superiors that the video was created to tease a fellow officer, the movie’s subject, whom police say they do not believe was aware of or involved in the movie creation. DeAngelo said that his statement on black people was meant as a reference to the fact that both officers work in a primarily African American district, and not meant as a racist attack.

In an open apology letter, DeAngleo stated, “To my family, my friends, my police department co-workers who I have embarrassed, and the people of the City of Boston, I offer a deep and sincere apology for the thoughtless, childish, insensitive, and offensive racial references contained in a video I made attempting to poke fun at a longtime friend and coworker.”

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