Lawsuit charges racism in Philadelphia police department
Published Jul 27, 2009 9:59 PM
Charging that city computers were used by on- and off-duty white police
officers to post blatantly racist and offensive comments to a Web site, the
Guardian Civic League, an association of Black Philadelphia police, filed a
federal lawsuit against the department on July 16.
The suit, joined by the NAACP and the National Association of Black Law
Enforcement Officers, seeks to have the racist Web site domelights.com shut
down and the police department punish its users.
Speaking at a press conference to announce the suit, Rochelle Bilal, head of
the League, said she has come across hundreds of disparaging remarks about
Blacks made by white officers. The League has been monitoring the Web site for
One such statement—“Guns don’t kill people. Dangerous
minorities do”—was posted last year. A recent racist post referred
to young Black and Latina/o summer campers who were subjected to vile, racist
names at a Huntington Valley swim club.
The suit names the city of Philadelphia, the police department, and a number of
unidentified site users as defendants. It also says domelights.com was founded
by a Philadelphia police sergeant who uses the screen name “McQ”
and “encourages the racially offensive conduct.” Even the word
“domelights,” which normally refers to the police lights on top of
cruisers, has taken on an “insulting connotation” among Black
officers, according to the lawsuit.
Lawyer Brian Mildenberg filed the suit. He charged that by ignoring the Black
officers’ complaints, the police department has created a hostile
environment for Black officers in the workplace. “The site founder
creates this thing and it starts to go viral with white racists over the
years,” he said. Mildenberg is also representing some parents of the
summer campers in discrimination lawsuits against the Valley Swim Club.
The Web site was created in 2000. Now it has more than 6,000 users and claims
to be “devoted to the abolition of political correctness.” The site
bills itself as “the voice of the good guys.”
Speaking of Web site supporters, Bilal said, “If you’re a police
officer, a sworn officer of the law, and you think that way toward people of
color, you shouldn’t be here.”
Mildenberg charged that responsibility for the Web site’s content goes
beyond its administrator and falls on the police department, which had been
made aware of the problem but failed to act. Philadelphia Police Commissioner
Charles Ramsey acknowledged that he knew of the Web site. The police department
does control who gets Internet access on the job.
Mildenberg said that police policy should also prohibit officers from posting
racist material on their own time. The lawsuit notes that regulations require
officers “to avoid engaging in racially offensive speech or conduct in
public.” Mildenberg noted that there is no First Amendment protection on
an employer’s computer. “The employer owns your e-mail, your
This is not the first time that the Guardian Civic League and the National
Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers have challenged racist
Philadelphia police officers and the Fraternal Order of Police. Both Black
organizations have also taken public stands calling for a new trial for
political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.
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