The Plain View of Police Sexism and Racism Online

While the power of movements like #BlackLivesMatter and Campaign Zero have brought more attention to the reality of police misconduct, the issue of brutality and distrust is still pervasive, especially between minority groups and the police. After taking a look into the Facebook accounts of thousands of officers—as investigative journalists Emily Hoerner and Rick Tulsky did—the reasons for police distrust have become even clearer.

The Injustice Watch reporter and co-director just launched The Plain View Project, a database of hundreds of thousands of racist and violent messages posted on Facebook by 800 retired and 2900 active police officers. In total, they found that one out of five current officers and two out of five retired officers have posted blatantly racist and violent content.

“I would have pulled the trigger,” wrote one cop in a comment on a video shared on Facebook of an armed robber backing out of a liquor store after the clerk pulled out a gun. “F these muslem turd goat humper,” one St. Louis officer wrote when sharing a false news report distorting a shooting of a female police officer. “Good day for a chokehold,” wrote another officer in different post.

Tulsky and Hoerner explained that the intention of the study was not to inspire police hatred, but rather to look into why it exists in the first place. “The project sought to compile posts, comments and other public activity,” Tulsky and Hoerner explained in a statement, “that could undermine public trust in the police and reinforce the views of critics, especially in minority communities, that the police are not there to protect them.”

The disturbing content posted did not all explicitly pertain to police issues and practices. Many of the posts highlighted by the database expressed violent hatred and mockery of women, Mexicans, minority religious groups and African-Americans. Though the police in question are technically protected by the First Amendment, preaching hatred and violence toward minorities and women after their shifts as an officer are over indicates that the values these officers hold are in absolute contradiction with the nature and necessity of their work.

“These posts were selected because the viewpoints expressed could be relevant to important public issues, such as police practices, public safety, and the fair administration of the law,” reads the disclaimer on the Plain View Projects database. “The posts and comments are open to various interpretations. We do not know what a poster meant when he or she typed them; we only know that when we saw them, they concerned us. We have shared these posts because we believe they should start a conversation, not because we believe they should end one.”

Since the publication of this information, the 5000 posts highlighted by the study have been making headlines—forcing police departments and community members across the country to confront the issue. At least four departments have confirmed they are investigating the implicated officers. But holding individuals accountable is only the first step to address and end this problem.

The magnitude of the racist and bigoted comments suggests these posts are a symptomatic of a larger issue. “This blows up the myth of bad apples,” Nikki Jones, an associate professor of African-American studies at the University of California, Berkeley told InjusticeWatch.

The study and database force us all to confront the uncomfortable issues within policing. Brutality, mistrusting women who report sexual assault and racial profiling all stem from the hyper-masculine culture surrounding the profession of a police officer.

The consequences of this machismo culture in policing is that aspects of toxic masculinity—including an exaggerated heterosexuality and physical aggression—are rewarded in the field. But the results of the study have made clear that such traits associated with masculinity are perhaps not the most important qualities needed to be a good police officer. Communication skills and resistance to bias are skills would prove to be more helpful in building the trust back between police and their communities.

The police desperately need to win back the trust of the American people—and to do so, they need to prove they are here to protect Americans of all genders, sexualities, skin colors and religious groups.


Greta Baxter is currently working as a summer editorial intern at Ms. Magazine. While majoring in Political Science and Law at Sciences Po Paris she was the anglophone culture section editor of her schools newspaper, The Sundial Press, and the head of editing and visuals of HeforShe Sciences Po. As a passionate intersectional feminist, she is especially interested in the relationship between gender and health as well as how gender bias and discrimination is embedded in political and legal systems. When she is not talking about gender and looking at what steps forward and backward are being made around the world, she is probably arguing about why sweet breakfast foods are superior to savory breakfast foods. You can follow her on Twitter!