I received a press release from CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) this week, it started like this:
The Greater Los Angeles office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-LA) today called for an investigation of an anti-Islam post on Instagram by a person who is shown posing in a Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) uniform standing next to a patrol car, suggesting he is a sergeant with that department.
The apparent LAPD officer, with the username “la_5_o,” posted an image on his Instagram account entitled, “Japan keeps Islam at bay by putting restriction on Islam and ALL Muslims.” The anti-Muslim information in the viral image has been debunked by experts. In commenting on the image, the “officer” wrote, “maybe something can be learned from this photo?”
I clicked on the associated links and expected to see something seriously offensive. But it wasn’t. It looked like a fact chart about Japan and Islam. Now, given the fact that I know nothing about Japan, the contents didn’t really affect me one way or the other. I had know way of knowing whether it was true or false on the face of it.
According to Politifact, the “facts” portrayed in the chart are all blatantly false. And again, I say, I have know way of knowing whether any of it is true or not. But for the purposes of this story, I’m going to assume that Politifact got it right and the content of the graphic is untrue.
I see meme’s like this published all the time. I’m careful not to pass them along unless I know the contents are true. But most people aren’t that careful. I mean, really, do you fact check every meme YOU share? Most people don’t. And even if you do, it’s often difficult to know for sure what’s fact and what’s fiction.
It’s doubtful this officer created this graphic, but simply passed an existing one along, without verifying it’s accuracy. Good move? No. But something severe enough to warrant an investigation into the officer? CAIR’s contention is that:
“Law enforcement officers hold a critical position in our communities and it is vital for them to interact with individuals based on mutual respect, regardless of faith or ethnicity.”
“CAIR is a firm supporter of the Constitution’s First Amendment right to free speech, including the right to bigoted speech like that expressed in this post. However, it is extremely disturbing for law enforcement personnel, who are sworn to serve and protect, to harbor and blatantly express such prejudice against an entire segment of our society.”
On the one hand, they say they support the US Constitution’s 1st Amendment. On the other hand, they accuse the officer of disrespect and bigoted speech and want him investigated with “appropriate action” being taken against him.
Clearly, they don’t understand what “free speech” looks like. Free speech does not only apply to non-law-enforcement people. And law enforcement personnel cannot be discriminated against for exercising their free speech rights on their own personal time and space.
For CAIR to expect officers not to have any personally held opinions, beliefs, or even biases would be naive and completely unrealistic. After all, they are human. What we can expect from law enforcement is for their personally held opinions, beliefs, and biases not to adversely impact or interfere with objectively performing their duties. Unless something in this officer’s duties has indicated a bias against Muslims (or any other group of people), there’s no reason that the officer shouldn’t be able to express a viewpoint on a personal Instagram account.
CAIR needs to realize that this is the price of free speech. Sometimes people will say things we don’t like. Sometimes it can feel, or even actually be, disrespectful. But that doesn’t make it illegal. And it doesn’t mean an officer’s life or career should be ruined over it.
Photo credit Politifact