This question came up on Midweek Politics with David Pakman, about the possibility that some police would like to participate in the protests, and whether they can.
I apologize that this answer runs long. It opens up a Pandora’s box of problems, only a few of which I address in this post.
The short answer is no. It is extremely ill-advised for any police officer, firefighter or paramedic to be seen actively participating in protests.
I would encourage anyone who wants to understand the depth and complexity of civil rights violations against public safety workers, and the seriousness of consequences for society as a whole, to check out the “Mr. Fuddlesticks” section of this blog. That is an ongoing battle in which you can actually make a difference and support ethical police whose rights have been trampled and spat on because they tried to advocate for the citizens.
Natan Pakman: What happens if an off-duty police officer is protesting and happens to get arrested because they non-violently went into the street, you know, and they were told not to go into the street. Are there repercussions on his job if that happens?
Public safety officers (police, firefighters, and paramedics) are held to a higher standard of conduct. We have to pass criminal background checks. If I get a speeding ticket I can’t work, because I drive government vehicles and have to have a clean driving record for their insurance.
Any public safety officer can certainly be fired for any criminal conviction, especially a police officer. However, corruption runs deep and wide in many departments, and serious offenses get deliberately overlooked while minor infractions — especially criticisms of the agency or the government — get taken very seriously.
Again, see Mr. Fuddlesticks, where they came after a police officer like the ghostrider for anonymously calling out wrongdoing in his department. It’s a huge and serious problem.
Understand that when you work in public safety, you’re in a heirarchy; at the bottom are people like yourself, who answer 911 calls. Above you are white shirts who move paper around, then politicians. They are the ones calling the shots.
Someone who has a misdemeanor conviction for civil disobedience is never going to be hired in the first place. System buckers need not apply. The county I live in is hiring one paramedic and one EMT. For the one paramedic slot they have 12 qualified applicants to choose from. For the EMT job, they have 95. That’s not a typo, they have 95 qualified EMTs vying for one job. Do you think they’re going to hire the protestor? The person with the blog?
The paramedic job pays $12/hour, by the way. I think the EMT job pays $9/hour.
It’s micropolitics. The same rules apply at the fire station as in big politics — Anthony Weiner can’t be tolerated for flirting on the internet; David Vitter is a regular client of a brothel and gets a standing ovation on the senate floor. One side of our system seriously bullies the other, and that goes from the top down.
They can’t legally say, “You, citizen, are not permitted to protest off duty, out of uniform,” but sometimes they do anyway. I was once screamed at by a fire chief in front of the entire department for casually expressing a criticism of our local community college. We were at the fire station, no civilians around.
I was told that even when I am out of uniform, people know I’m affiliated with that department and may mistake me for a department spokesperson or that I’m reflecting departmental opinions. I took a huge amount of abuse from the white shirts for months after that.
Was I fired? No. But they made my life difficult, because they didn’t like my opinions. “Opinionated” is the scarlet letter in public safety, and it’s code for “liberal.”
That same chief once said in a pump operation class that the way we should handle Afghanistan is go into these villages, tell everybody who’s not a terrorist to get out by sundown, then come back later, shoot everybody who’s left, and burn the place to the ground. This was from the person teaching the class on how to operate the pump for the hoses. Now granted, I’m a lot lower on the totem pole, and you have to earn the right to have an opinion in a public safety organization. But it’s taken to the extreme in a way that truly damages our society.
I was once fired for asking, then insisting that they turn off Fox News in the small room I was required to stay in. They didn’t say that was why I was fired, but then again they didn’t have to give a reason. They didn’t have to draw me a diagram anyway, I got it. Union representation is all well and fine, but these are people who have been gaming the system for years, and they’re very good at it.
My objection wasn’t even so much a political thing; the TV was constant and really loud, plus it was Fox. It was making my PTSD symptoms really hard to manage, and I had no choice but stay right in that small room until called. I was having to fight off a freakout all night long. I went and sat in another room and was told to come back to my post. I asked them to turn it down, they wouldn’t. I asked the supervisor and was told to just deal. I asked again and was told that I’m legally within my rights to insist they turn it off, if I want to go there. They gave me no other choice, so I did. Then I got fired. Yeah, I know, there are laws against that. Want to know how that works out? See above. They’re the government, they do whatever the hell they want.
David Pakman: That’s an interesting question. I wonder if internally there has been anything said by those in charge of these departments, you cannot be involved with these protests on your time off? I think that there would be some kind of a violation of people’s rights to assemble if you were being told that. I mean certainly if you break the law, you break the law if you’re off duty. But any kind of internal repercussions, I don’t know. That’s a good question.
They don’t need to tell you. By the time you get on the job you’re going to understand that you’d better be pro-government, with your mouth shut. It’s a “speak when spoken to” position. Situations can vary based on the dynamics of your command and your union, but the unions are all sheisty and are not there to actually protect individual workers. They’re entirely political too.
I don’t know of any white shirts who would be glad to see their people openly supporting OWS, even if they’re sympathetic, because the ones above them are not — no matter what they say. They’re politicians; they tell you what they think you want to hear, then they tell us how it’s going to be.
If anyone knows of police departments trying to influence the officers not to protest let me know.
I know multiple soldiers who have been bullied for not supporting the right-wing ideology. (The same happens to non-Christians, who get bullied for not going along with that part of the system.)
When my friend John came back from I think his third tour in Afghanistan, co-workers confronted him about who he’d be voting for. John is from Massachusetts, and advised he’d be voting for Kerry. He was told that wasn’t a good idea, and he should vote for Bush. He invited them to suck it. He was called out about this by higher and higher levels of his command until they ended up with his entire unit being called to work in the middle of the night. They made all these people get out of bed in the dark of night, get dressed, report for duty, and sit there while John got bullied by a colonel about his lack of patriotism. I kid you not.
For the record, John also has really bad PTSD, is at serious risk of suicide, and cannot reasonably be asked to function in society due to his overall mental health. The bullying he got about that — while sucking it up — is beyond shameful.
UPDATE: After David Pakman asked for audience feedback on this question — which information I’d been trying to give him via email for months before he even asked — he never acknowledged it. I think that kind of sucks.