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Recent Facebook posts from 8 firefighters & cops brings firings, demotions & more

SC Columbia firefighter fire 7-11-16

Since Thursday there have been firings, demotions, suspensions and other actions taken against at least eight firefighters and police officers for Facebook postings in reaction to the shootings in Dallas. Just yesterday (Monday) actions were announced in four different cases. And in one incident over the weekend a Facebook battle ended up in a deadly confrontation at a police officers home.

People are angry, I get it. Everyone has their reasons. Certainly the events of last week will take a long time to recover from for many of us.

I have my own theories about the anger and rage that have taken over our public discourse. It’s not based on any data, or anything other than my gut after spending too much of each day in front of a computer screen over the last decade.

Social media incites us. It pushes our buttons. As we’ve seen over and over again, what we read doesn’t even have to be true to get many of us riled. But our reaction to even the true stuff isn’t always in proportion to what we’ve just read. Our tendency to overreact breeds more overreaction and polarization. I worry that it all helps incite the most unhealthy among us to take things beyond the computer screen.

It’s not breaking new ground when I point out that anger, rage and emotional responses are part of the fuel mixture that keeps Facebook running. It’s also probably clear to most of us that election season and the awful news we’ve been dealing with have brought the rhetoric to a new level. The result has been this higher than usual number of firefighters and police officers hurting their careers and losing their jobs.

This post is not to tell anyone how they should feel about anything or downplaying or dismissing anyone’s feelings. My only goal is to get you to take a deep breath before posting. We need to stop this SMACSS epidemic (for those who don’t know, SMACSS is the acronym for Social Media Assisted Career Suicide Syndrome).

It’s probably worth a review of the recent cases:

Captain Jimmy Morris, a 16-year veteran of the Columbia (SC) Fire Department was fired yesterday (Monday) after his Facebook post Sunday night about a Black Lives Matter protest. He wrote “Idiots shutting down I-126. Better not be there when I get off work or there is gonna be some run over dumb asses.” Read more, here.

In Chatham County, Georgia an unidentified Southside Fire/EMS employee was fired yesterday for what the department called “slanderous remarks.” The Savannah Morning News says it involved comments on Facebook with obscenities, a racial slur and the phrase “white power.” Read more, here.

Nathan Weekley, a 17-year-veteran of the Detroit (MI) Police Department was demoted yesterday from detective to officer after posting this reaction Friday to the murder of the Dallas Police officers: “For the first time in my nearly 17 years as a law enforcement officer I contemplated calling into work in response to the outrageous act perpetrated against my brothers. It seems like the only response that will demonstrate our importance to society as a whole. The only racists here are the piece of (expletive) Black Lives Matter terrorists and their supporters.” Read more, here.

Omaha (NE) Police Officer Bryan Kulhanek was placed on administrative leave yesterday as an internal investigation looks into his Facebook post about Black Lives Matter that reads, in part, “BLM is NOT a pro black group. They are a anti white police group. They are racist plain and simple. Thousands of blacks are killed by other blacks. Innocent black children are killed in the crossfire. Black police officers murdered. And they are completely silent.” Read more, here.

Officer Christopher Taylor of the Nashville (TN) Metropolitan Police Department had his police powers revoked Sunday while he is under investigation for changing his Facebook profile picture to an iconic 1960s photo of “Black Panther National Chairman Bobby Seale and Huey Newton holding a Colt .45 and a shotgun in Oakland, California.” Read more, here.

An off-duty St. Louis County (MO) police officer got into a Facebook argument about Black Lives Matter with 20-year-old Tyler Gebhard on Saturday. According to police accounts, Gebhard, who apparently had mental health issues, showed up at the officer’s home, threw a concrete planter through a window and ended up being shot to death by the officer. Read more, here.

Overland Park (KS) Police Officer Rodney Lee Wilson was fired and is facing a criminal investigation after a black Dallas woman received a threatening Facebook comment under pictures of her daughter shortly after the shootings Thursday night. The post said, “We’ll see how much her life matters soon. Better be careful leaving your info open where she can be found 🙂 Hold her close tonight it’ll be the last time.” Read more, here.

Haywood County (NC) Deputy Sheriff Andrew Sutton has been suspended, in part, for a conversation on Facebook about the recent protests that included this comment Thursday morning before the Dallas shootings, “Once again if you know so much about what we do then show us how it’s done. I usually shoot people on Facebook too.” Read more, here.

In addition, prior to this most recent rash of Facebook troubles, shared with you the story of DC Fire & EMS Department Firefighter Norman Brooks. Brooks is under investigation for posting, just before the Dallas shootings, a call to arms against “racist cops.” Read more, here.

What I think is in order right now is a social media stand down. If you are an active member of a public safety organization, your inner most thoughts about current events are best left unsaid in a public forum. Even if you have good intentions or don’t mean to be inflammatory, it’s still probably best to only share those thoughts in verbal form and only with your closest friends and family.

An angry post may give you immediate satisfaction, but it’s best to look beyond that to the reaction that could harm you and your family for a long time to come.

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