Shawn Peterson was the cook at Leslie’s Family Tree restaurant in beautiful downtown Santaquin, Utah. It’s unclear whether he was a good cook or not, though there is no indication he had any Michelin stars. Still, it looks like a nice restaurant, and Peterson’s cooking must have been good enough to keep the joint from going under.
So they fired him. Not for his cooking, but for his Facebook page.
“We’re just blown away by this,” said Leslie Broadhead, owner of Leslie’s Family Tree, a family-owned cafe with a Facebook page that normally focuses on daily specials and weekend entertainment.
But this week, the cafe’s Facebook rating began to plummet as negative reviews poured in. In the comments under food photos, people were posting the image of a man in uniform lying on bloody pavement with a bullet through his forehead, accompanied by the text: “This is what a good cop looks like.”
Peterson exercised his First Amendment right to express his views about police. Cops weren’t pleased.
“When I get on my Facebook every day, the first thing I see is what this cop did what that cop did. The cops killed this person or that person,” Peterson said. “People were praising these cops, and I wasn’t thinking and posted that.”
In retaliation for Peterson’s posting of the image that police found unbearably offensive, they responded in kind, but posting to his employer’s Facebook page.
Peterson said he never intended to involve the restaurant, but a nationwide network of officers, possibly a Facebook group, apparently got wind of his post and captured images of it to post on the restaurant’s page.
Outrage flew in both directions, as the police attacked the unrelated restaurant for Peterson’s offending image, and the cops were attacked in kind for this secondary pressure designed to punish the restaurant for employing Peterson. Both Peterson and Leslie Broadhead agreed that the only way to stop the massacre was for him to separate from the restaurant, so he did.
Right or wrong, and it should be noted that this is one of those instances where people who happened to be police officers exercised their free speech rights as individuals, but the effort to intentionally harm a secondary party may be tortious and is clearly akin to a secondary labor boycott, illegal under the law, it demonstrates the phenomenon of police striking back in their own self-interest.
On Facebook, presumably police have a page called “Copblock Exposed,” whose purpose is to “[e]xpose the public to criminal histories of those behind the cop block movement. This is NOT a debate page.” It’s more of an indulgence of infantile humor, preaching to the choir and a rather damning reflection of the American educational system, but it’s there.
The distinction between CopBlock, a website whose purpose is to expose police corruption and misconduct, and the police riposte, is that the cops are using ad hominem attacks rather than addressing substantive complaints. They do things like this:
This is a fair reflection of the humor, maturity and sophistication of the Expose Copblock people. How quickly did it convince you to love cops and hate Copblock?
For those who spend their days writing comments about revolution, how all cops are animals, or that the only solution to police misconduct is harming police, think about how stupid this effort looks to you. Yours looks just as stupid. Sorry, but you’re no more persuasive than they are.
Much as what happened to Shawn Peterson may seem outrageous, largely because it was an effort directed to harm him by applying unwarranted pressure to his employer, this is unbridled speech at its most robust. It can be foolish. It can be shallow and juvenile. But it’s an expression of ideas that we may not like or find convincing, but then, Peterson’s speech wasn’t all that thoughtful either.
We may hope that speech will mature to the point that it will be more substantive, so that the differences are hashed out in ideas rather than brute force. But then, if this is what gets cops cranking, it’s their right to express it regardless of whether it’s effective in changing minds or just makes people stupider. It does not need to meet with our approval.
Most of us would find it preferable that jerks stopped ruining free speech for the rest of us, as extreme speech tends to just rile everyone up and give rise to cries for its suppression. Speech can be messy, low value, ignorant, hurtful and certainly offensive. The solution to speech that outrages is counter speech that overcomes the message of speech that offends you. That’s true for men and women, cops and non-cops, everyone.
But if you think it’s just cop-haters who are saying mean things about those who protect and serve, those days are over. The police have figured out how to use Facebook, and they’re doing so with a vengeance. And that’s their right.
H/T Mike Paar