Irvington Cops Make Gangsta Video – Should They be Disciplined? [POLL]
This is going to be one of those “conduct unbecoming” vs “free speech” debates.
A group of 4 Irvington cops are now being investigated for making gangsta rap videos that uses homophobic slurs and portrays gangsta life as “the” life to be living.
The video, unfortunately, isn’t on Youtube; but if you’d seen it, you’d have a hard time believing the actors in the video are cops.
Do you feel as though their First Amendments rights are being violated if they are somehow censured by the police department, or should they not be portraying gangsters in the first place since it sends the wrong message about police?
You be the judge.
The music video for the song "Temper Like An Alcoholic," performed by Irvington hip-hop artist "Gat The Great," embodies all the bad stereotypes of a 1990s "gangsta rap" video.
In the video, posted on YouTube (which has since been taken down), three other men flank Gat as the broad-shouldered emcee with the booming voice spits out various homophobic slurs and promise violence against his rivals. One man swings a medieval mace, and a handgun can be seen on "Gat’s" hip.
In another video, Gat is decked out in a gaudy fur coat and raps from the driver’s seat of an expensive car. He calls himself a "felon for life" and warns other rappers they may have to "meet (his) Smith & Wesson," while pretending to fire a gun at the camera.
The lyrics might be tame for a hard-nosed rapper, but Gat and his posse are only part-time musicians.
Gat is better known as Officer Maurice Gattison, president of Irvington’s police union, and the other three men are decorated township officers. All four are now the subject of an internal investigation because of the video, which has reignited a debate about what police officers can and can’t say. Does the right of free speech trump department rules and regulations when the cops are off-duty?
"The Irvington Police Department has standards of conduct that apply to on-duty and off-duty behavior," Police Director Joseph Santiago said.
"Those standards have consistently been applied in circumstances where the officer’s private behavior undermines the police department’s position in the community or creates the impression that its members may not be able to fairly enforce the law."
Gattison is the latest police officer to face potential discipline over conduct involving social media.
While those cases almost immediately lead to internal probes, Gattison’s video has split Irvington’s leaders.
Santiago called for an investigation after viewing the clip, and Mayor Wayne Smith called Gattison’s lyrics "inappropriate" and promised "corrective action."
Township attorney Marvin Braker said he was troubled by some of Gattison’s lyrics, but the song could be considered protected free speech.
Gattison, a veteran cop whom Santiago described as a talented and productive detective, doesn’t understand the controversy. He said he has been rapping since he was a teenager and the insults weren’t aimed at anyone or meant as threats.
"I’m not doing nothing to nobody," he said.
"I could see if I was targeting somebody, but it’s just lyrical exercise."
And if police officials had a problem with the music, Gattison asked, then why did the town’s highest-ranking officer invite him to rap at a department Christmas party?
The video was shot in November, according to Gattison, who said most officers knew about the clip. In December, Gattison said he was invited to perform at the department’s holiday party by Capt. Dwayne Mitchell, who is running the department while Police Chief Michael Chase serves an indefinite suspension on misconduct charges.
The four officers do not identify themselves as police in the video, though what appears to one officer’s badge can be seen. Wayne Fisher, the former deputy director of the state division of criminal justice who wrote many of New Jersey’s guidelines on police discipline, said Gattison did nothing wrong.
"If they had taken part in a Shakesperean play, and the character talked about murdering people, would there be any outrage?" he asked. "In this instance, their First Amendment rights trump anything else."
Other experts disagreed and said Gattison’s comments could negatively affect the department.
"Your free speech off-duty is not unlimited," said Eugene O’Donnell, a former Manhattan district attorney who now serves as a professor at the John Jay School of Criminal Justice.
"Things that can impede the agency’s work, cause disgrace to the agency or subject the agency to ridicule can be legitimate issues for internal action."
Yes they can be.
And when cops portray themselves as such using telltale signs that they are cops, discipline should be meted out.
You have a right to free speech, but (big "but"), that doesn’t mean it won’t come without consequences.