Only seven people have been disciplined.
Black officers within the Los Angeles Police Department alerted Chief Michel Moore to racist language and imagery being shared across social media by other personnel following the death of George Floyd. Moore took six months to ban the behavior, eventually establishing consequences ranging from no punishment to termination. Since then, only seven sworn LAPD personnel have been disciplined for “unbecoming conduct” online.
In an October 2020 newsletter put out by the Oscar Joel Bryant Foundation — an organization dedicated to improving the hiring process and workplace for Black LAPD officers — program president Jody K. Stiger shared that he received numerous calls and texts about racist comments members and non-members were witnessing within the department following the George Floyd protests in 2020. The “harsh” and “callous” comments and “countless” racist remarks were made about the Black Lives Matter movement and officers who kneeled with protesters.
The foundation chose to send out a survey that asked if any officers had “witnessed or were aware of any concerning statements made by LAPD employees in regards to the recent protests and calls for police reform.” Sixty percent of officers polled said yes.
The foundation shared the results with Chief Moore in a meeting sometime between May and October 2020 and met with command staff at the department to make them aware of what was happening. In response to the newsletter’s survey, Moore sent an email to members of the command staff, including Director of Constitutional Policy and Policing Lizabeth Rhodes and Commander of Diversity and Inclusion Ruby Flores. In the email, he stated that he was looking to his leadership, commanders to sergeants, to remind officers of their “common purpose” and that “in this most stressful moment, empathy and compassion for each other remain our greatest ally.”
Just two months later, in December 2020, Chief Moore was sent a letter written by an anonymous group of Black LAPD officers who call themselves 7Alpha. The letter, titled Collective Thoughts, detailed the racism that proliferated online in private group chats, on social media, and in the workplace following Floyd’s murder.
The letter opens by establishing the group’s perspective and speaking about the experience of a Black person in America. They write that they support the statement “Black Lives Matter” as “a fact,” and call out the phrase “All Lives Matter” as an idea that ignores the “endangered” reality of being a Black person in 2020. However, the group does not condone the tactics and strategies of the organization Black Lives Matter.
The letter’s authors reveal that some LAPD officers used their personal social media accounts to share their racist, bigoted, and offensive beliefs unopposed. Black officers witnessed comments such as “Breonna Taylor is a fat slob and deserved what she got”; “George Floyd had a criminal history, so he got what he deserved”; and “these negro people kill their own and blame others for it.”
The group also says this behavior created a toxic workplace and divided the police department as the incidents began cropping up within the physical workplace. The letter alleges the hostile and racist rhetoric was made in “roll call rooms, break rooms, patrol cars, and in station parking lots,” making Black officers feel “trapped” and afraid to speak up out of “fear of retaliation or worse.”
The letter doesn’t state whether any officers were retaliated against or refer to any specific threats of harm. Nor does the anonymous letter name any officers or provide Moore with any accounts that the department could investigate.
In a later email, after receiving the 7Alpha letter, Moore said to the same higher-ups, “this is a critical area we need to discuss.” He further stated that much of the growing racial animus among officers stems from social media posts. The commanding officer of the Public Relations Unit, Josh Rubenstein, was included on the email. Rubenstein is currently being sued over his use of the word “boys” to two Black officers. The term “boys” has been used to degrade Black men. When Rubenstein was asked to stop because of this, he continued to use the term.
Moore updated the department’s social media policy some six months after receiving the first warning. The new policy states: “Social media activities of any kind that are harassing, discriminatory, disparaging, and/or defamatory, or that contain ethnic slurs, personal insults, threats, or bullying violates [sic] numerous Departmental policies and values and undermines [sic] our ability to serve the public and perform the Department’s mission in a cohesive manner.” These complaints are handled and disciplined as “unbecoming conduct” and the policy states that discipline may result “up to and including removal from the Department.” A sworn officer can face other disciplinary action such as: no penalty, suspension, demotion, or removal. The process of filing a complaint is handled internally, leaving what’s considered “unbecoming” and the appropriate discipline up to department personnel — who may be privately sharing or commenting on the offensive material themselves.
Since the April 2021 update to the social media policy, there have been only seven sworn LAPD personnel who have been disciplined for “unbecoming conduct” online. Only three of those instances were for either “racist” or “ethnic” remarks. Due to the lack of transparency of these disciplinary records, neither an officer’s name nor the substance of the content is known to the public.
Per LAPD’s disciplinary reports, in April 2022 an LAPD detective retired before they could face any penalty for “distributing materials with ethnic remarks” and other “discourteous materials” from a now-deleted Instagram account, choir.practice. The account name is a reference to officers who meet up after work to drink and socialize. And in June 2022 a detective shared “offensive and inappropriate” images to an Instagram account called “Blue Line Mafia,” and also retired before they could face punishment. The two accounts were identified early in LAPD’s investigation about who shared a Valentine’s Day card with a photo of George Floyd that said “you take my breath away,” a reference to his murder by Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes. The department identified it as a source for much of the offensive material shared among LAPD officers.
The content shared on choir.pratice is now involved in a lawsuit over multiple racist and offensive memes. A black officer, Ryon Stewart, is suing the department for discrimination and harassment after the account shared several memes targeting Stewart’s race. One of the memes compared him to Christopher Dorner, a Black LAPD officer and whistleblower who in 2013 committed multiple shootings throughout Southern California and was killed in a standoff with San Bernardino sheriffs in the San Bernardino Mountains. The account created the memes after Stewart spoke up about the discriminatory treatment he was facing while working in the West Valley Division.
While the technologies have changed, the culture of sharing racist and disparaging remarks among officers is nothing new. In July 1991, the Christopher Commission Report highlighted transcripts of communications shared via the department’s mobile data terminals. Officers shared remarks such as: “I would love to drive down Slauson with a flame thrower … we would have a barbeque,” “Sounds like monkey slapping time,” and “Hi … just got mexercise for the night.”
The 1991 report calls out the inadequacy of the disciplinary process in regards to sharing racist remarks, noting that many officers had little concern about being disciplined. In a seven-year period, 1984 to 1990, the report found that only two complaints were sustained for racial remarks.
Neither Moore nor the department has publicly confirmed if there are additional investigations ongoing regarding the allegations brought up to him personally by Black LAPD officers in the two documents. As far as future allegations, Chief Moore said there is “zero tolerance” for sharing anything with racist views.
Any future and ongoing complaints will go through the same discipline process that handed out zero biased policing complaints in 2021 and resulted in only three instances of officer discipline for “unbecoming” racist posts online. The documented prevalence of racism and far-right extremism within police departments and within the LAPD casts further doubt on the department’s ability to adequately investigate and discipline officers who post racist and offensive content online.