Below is an official complaint that I emailed to the Office of Internal Affairs of the Chattanooga Police Department on Sunday, Dec. 7. The official complaint was prompted after I read misogynistic comments made by Chattanooga Police Officer William Puckett on a post that had been made by Renaissance Presbyterian Church Elder Chris Brooks’ public Facebook timeline. Elder Brooks’ original post and Officer Puckett’s comments can be seen in screenshots below. Over the course of the past few days I have watched as Elder Brooks has been the target of increased online harassment because of the public stand he took regarding Officer Puckett’s comments that denigrated women, people of color, and activists.
Transcript of Complaint I emailed to the Office of Internal Affairs:
To: Lieutenant Jason Irvin, commander, Chattanooga Police Department-Office of Internal Affairs
From: Beth Foster, social justice coordinator, Mercy Junction
Date: Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014
On Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, about 8 a.m., I logged onto my Facebook account from my home in Cleveland, Tenn. I was scrolling my news feed when I came across disturbing comments made by William Puckett, who made clear by his words that he was speaking as a Chattanooga Police Officer, on a post regarding the role white people must play in ensuring that we become a society that embraces justice for people of all colors. While I immediately felt the need to speak out about why the comments were offensive, I hesitated as I watched the social media backlash over the course of the past three days.
That backlash led to some fear and hesitation about filing this official complaint because of the retaliation I saw directed toward Chris Brooks, who was the first person to bring Officer Puckett’s statements to public attention. The retaliation I witnessed directed toward Mr. Brooks makes me fear virtual harassment (to which the attached screenshots reference) and harm in the community (which the attached screenshots seem to indicate is a very real possibility).
In thinking through that fear and hesitation, I came to the conclusion that I had an obligation — as one who is employed by a Chattanooga ministry to advance social justice, and as a white woman with a certain amount of privilege — to speak out.
Officer Puckett’s comments were disturbing and offensive to me on three levels.
1) As a woman who works in Chattanooga, the misogynistic attack in Officer Puckett’s comments left me feeling cold and disgusted. Is this the department that I am to believe is there to protect and serve me when I go to work in the city? As a woman, can I expect armed officers with these attitudes to respond with professionalism should I find myself in a situation in which I need police intervention or with which I am expected to interact should I be part of a traffic stop? Especially as I consider that one in three women will be the victim of a sexual assault in her lifetime, that one in three women will be the victim of domestic violence in her lifetime, I’m angered by Officer Puckett’s dehumanization of women at an even deeper level. Will the officer who responds the next time a woman is raped, the next time a woman is beaten by her husband, be an officer who denigrates people by calling them “bitches?” How will that attitude translate into that officer’s treatment and interaction with the woman he is called to protect and serve, and who is in the most vulnerable, frightened conditions she is likely to ever experience?
2) As an activist, as one who has marched, petitioned, camped, rallied and protested to work toward a more just society, as a trained legal observer with the National Lawyers Guild who has spent many hours on the ground doing legal observation at various actions in Chattanooga, I find Officer Puckett’s comments chilling for those who are involved with justice work and who believe in First Amendment protections. In hundreds and hundreds of hours of street actions in Chattanooga, I know that those involved in justice work, that those expressing their First Amendment rights to assemble, to speak, and to petition their government for a redress of grievances, have frequent encounters with Chattanooga Police. Can protesters, demonstrators, marchers expect that the next time they exercise their First Amendment rights in Chattanooga they will encounter an officer who refers to activists as “wackos” and as “not having the balls to risk your life for someone you have never met?” Will it be an officer who says, “Real men work, bitches cheer from the sidelines.”
3) And third, and most concerning to me, given the current climate in the nation, is Officer Puckett’s total lack of sensitivity to the pain, anguish, anger and frustration of people of color and their allies as we see a situation in which black men and boys are routinely killed by police with no consequences. African Americans are incarcerated at six times the rate of white people. One in six black men has been incarcerated, and projections are – that without change – one in three black males born today can expect to spend some time in prison during his lifetime. Nation wide, African-Americans represent 26 percent of juvenile arrests, 44 percent of youth who are detained, 58 percent of youth put into state prisons. And this is just the beginning of the bleak picture of the injustices toward people of color perpetuated by our current policing, criminal justice and mass incarceration system. Why should black communities not have a deep distrust of police? Officer Puckett fed right into that with his comments. I can only imagine that if I were a black person raising children in Chattanooga, having read Officer Puckett’s comments would make me even more fearful about the possibility of having to interact with police, and even more angry about the injustices of a system that have already judged my family and me guilty based on the color of our skin.
I have attached a screen shot of the comments, as well as screenshots of the retaliation against Mr. Brooks. Please feel free to contact me if you need any further information.
Social Justice Coordinator, Mercy Junction