Last week John McNesby provided a disturbing display of racism, which reflected very poorly on the officers he represents.
We all know the mantra that gets recited after every incident of police brutality, corruption, or allegation of racism: “A few bad apples shouldn’t spoil the bunch.” The logic is simple: It is unfair to judge all law enforcement officers, who are well-meaning and hard-working public servants, by the actions of a few bad police officers who don’t and shouldn’t represent the entire group.
If racist police officers are rare in Philadelphia’s police force, John McNesby should not be representing the city’s police officers.
McNesby joined the Philadelphia Police Department in 1989 and has been an active member of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5. Since 2007, McNesby has served as the president of the FOP, the largest police union in Philadelphia and one of the largest in the country. According to the Inquirer, the union represents, “the majority of the Police Department’s 6,300 officers, as well as some in the Sheriff’s Office.” The FOP does more than collective bargaining. It is a political entity with a mission to zealously defend cops, regardless of the circumstances.
Last week McNesby provided a disturbing display of racism, which reflected very poorly on the officers he represents. Following the peaceful protest of a handful of Black Lives Matter activists outside the house of a police officer who shot in the back and killed 30-year-old black Philadelphian David Jones in June, McNesby called a “Back the Blue” rally. At that rally, McNesby called the activists “a pack of rabid animals.”
Let’s take this in. In 2017, the head of a police union called black men and women “rabid animals.” The crowd of cops and Pennsylvania politicians (mostly Republicans, including state Rep. Martina White and district attorney nominee Beth Grossman) didn’t boo him off, which reflects even more poorly. At the same event, City Councilmember Brian J. O’Neill called the Black Lives Matter protest “a stain on the city.” I think the real stain comes from the comments from McNesby, who ironically called the Black Lives Matter activists a “racist hate group.”
This is exactly the dehumanizing rhetoric that the mid-century Nazis tactically used to make killing of Jews much more morally justifiable to their executioners. Did the shooter of David Jones see a human in front of him, or a rabid animal? One’s life is sacred, the other is a hazard that should be exterminated.
We don’t need to look far back to see a pattern.
After not endorsing a presidential candidate for president in 2012, both the national FOP and Lodge 5 endorsed Donald Trump for president in 2016. McNesby was one of the three FOP leaders in charge of the national endorsement process. After the endorsement, Rochelle Bilal, the president of the Philadelphia Guardian Civic League, critiqued the endorsement saying, “We’re calling for all our members of the national FOP to come out and denounce the national support of Donald Trump.”
On July 2016, when Philadelphia hosted the Democratic National Convention, McNesby said that Hillary Clinton “should be ashamed” of herself “if that is possible,” because the speakers list included the Mothers of the Movement (mothers of black unarmed men who were killed by police) and not widows of police officers who were killed on duty.
In the early days of the Trump administration, McNesby was invited to the White House to meet with President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. It should come as no surprise, then, that just as Trump didn’t seem to understand the gravity of neo-Nazis marching through Charlottesville, his fan McNesby is not too concerned about neo-Nazis either.
In August 2016, a Facebook post showing a Nazi tattoo on a Philadelphia cop’s forearm went viral. Mayor Kenney responded to the images, calling them “disturbing.” He said, “I find it incredibly offensive, and I know many others do as well.”
If by “others” Kenney was referring to FOP leadership, that was wishful thinking. McNesby’s response:
“We have kids being killed in the street. We have shootings everyday, homicides, rapes, murders, burglaries, robberies, and we’re worried about a tattoo? I think our priorities are a little backwards. This officer here is a decorated veteran. He’s been on the force for over 17 years. He had that tattoo on his arm for over a decade. The eagle is the symbol of the German-American police association, which is a police department sanctioned organization.”
McNesby’s argument can be summarized as “He isn’t a neo-Nazi, and even if he was, shame on you for discussing that.”
You’re right, John. Shame on me and the living relatives and progeny of the six million Jews and other victims eliminated by the Nazis, for being deeply disturbed, offended, and scared of a police officer with such a tattoo.
The question remains, does McNesby represent the loud minority, or is he a true representation of the entire police force in Philadelphia? That question should be answered by the law enforcement officers of Philadelphia.
I never understand why police officers don’t denounce “bad apples.” When NYPD cop Daniel Pantaleo took down Eric Garner with a chokehold, leading to his death, police rallied behind him even though the NYPD banned the use of chokeholds back in 1993. The police union of NYC called Pantaleo “a model of what we want a police officer to be.” That’s a terrifying vision of how police officers should behave. Isn’t it offensive to good cops who follow the rules when others call a cop who broke protocol and killed an innocent man “a model”?
If Philadelphia law enforcement officers want us to believe that racism in policing comes from “a few bad apples,” it’s time to cull those bad apples from the ranks. A first step would be for the FOP to demand the resignation of John McNesby. After all, if a bad apple represents you, don’t blame me if I assume you are one as well.