Five Palo Alto Cops Sue The City And Their PD, Claiming A Black Lives Matter Mural Harassed Them

from the must-have-hired-the-first-attorney-who-didn't-immediately-start-laughing dept

A group of California police officers has decided other people’s expressive rights end where their personal offense begins. Five Palo Alto police officers are suing the city, along with their own police department, for somehow discriminating against them by allowing artists to create a street-long Black Lives Matter mural these officers passed on their way to work. (Well, at least up until the mural was removed by the city in November 2020, less than six months after it was first painted.)

The complaint contends harassment begins with the letter “E.” From the lawsuit [PDF]:

The iconography at issue in the letter “E” of the mural is an image of Joanne Chesimard, better known as Assata Shakur, who was convicted in 1977 for the murder of New Jersey State Trooper Wermer Foerster, a white police officer. In 1979, while serving life sentence for the murder, Shakur escaped from prison and ended up in Cuba where she now has refuge and where the Cuban government refuses to extradite her to the United States. As result of her conviction and subsequent prison escape, Shakur was placed on the FBI’s Top Ten List 0f Most Wanted Domestic Terrorists.

The cops also have a problem with a “portion of a logo” that has been attributed to the New Black Panthers, an organization designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

It’s these two elements of the city-ordained mural that seem to be triggering (yes, and in that form of the word as well) the harassment allegations. That and the fact that the officers were somehow forced to pass the mural on their way to work despite — as the Palo Alto Daily Post points out — the officers having to go out of their way to subject themselves to it.

The police department is located at 275 Forest Ave., on the opposite side of City Hall from the mural. The two vehicle entrances to the department are in the 600 block of Ramona and Bryant streets, a half block from where the mural had been located.

Here’s a little visual aid that shows how impossible it was for these officers to avoid being confronted by a controversial E:

Somehow the existence of this mural on a street a block away from the police department resulted in host of discrimination and harassment targeting this “protected” group of police officers.

Plaintiffs’ careers have been materially and adversely affected, and irreparably harmed and damaged by the conduct of the Defendants. Defendants, and each of them, created and allowed to exist harassing, discriminatory, and retaliatory work environment and failed to eliminate the illegal conduct complained of by Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs were discriminated against and harassed on the basis of their race, national origin, and/or color and retaliated against for exercising their rights to be free from harassing and discriminatory conduct in the workplace.

Moreover, Plaintiffs spoke out about and reported misconduct, retaliation, discrimination, and harassment in violation of state and federal law and reported such conduct to people above them in the chain of command. As direct and proximate consequence of reporting such misconduct—which constitutes protected activity under state and federal law—Defendants, and each of them, retaliated against, discriminated against, and harassed Plaintiffs and subjected them to adverse employment actions.Those adverse employment actions include, but are not limited to, refusing to eliminate the harassing and discriminatory conduct, and failing or refusing to investigate Plaintiffs’ complaints.

So, while the city did allow the mural to occupy the street and gave its blessing to the sixteen artists involved, it did not direct or supervise the content of the mural. And it’s not really “retaliation” for the PD and the City to not remove a mural just because five cops seem super angry about it. Nor is it “retaliation” to refuse to investigate claims that are facially idiotic.

The complaints aren’t any less specious just because a law firm signed off on it. The plaintiffs fail to indicate which protected group they believe they’re in, which makes it appear the officers believe “police officer” ranks right up there with race, national origin, and skin color.

They also believe the mural bullied them in horrible but nonspecific ways.

As a direct, foreseeable, and proximate result of Defendants’ harassing conduct and failure to act, Plaintiffs suffered and continue to suffer humiliation, embarrassment, anxiety, mental anguish, and emotional distress. Plaintiffs were required to and did employ, and will in the future employ, physicians and health care providers to examine, treat, and care for Plaintiffs, and did, and will in the future, incur medical and incidental expenses.

Welp, this lawsuit isn’t going to help much on the humiliation and embarrassment fronts. Without more factual assertions about the mural’s harassment of protected individuals who happened to pass by it on their way to work as public servants, it’s probably not going to survive the first motion to dismiss.

The plaintiffs should be wary of trying to push this too far, because it really looks like the plaintiffs are trying to make the case that saying “Black Lives Matter” somehow means the lives of people who aren’t black somehow don’t. Their incorrect assumptions about the meaning of this phrase — as well as their innate ability to be personally offended by certain elements of the street mural — isn’t even remotely in the ballpark of any legally actionable claims.

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Comments on “Five Palo Alto Cops Sue The City And Their PD, Claiming A Black Lives Matter Mural Harassed Them”

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Cynebald says:

Re: 'Screw your rights and lives, think about our feelings!'

While the cop suit is ridiculous, the city wouldn’t allow opposing Points of view have similar access to express themselves in essence making the street mural the only city allowed speech. As much as I believe that we need to eliminate QI and need police reform, we should have a gov agency stating what is approved expression and that is what happened in this case.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: 'Screw your rights and lives, think about our feelings!'

"the city wouldn’t allow opposing Points of view have similar access to express themselves in essence making the street mural the only city allowed speech."

[citation required] as usual.

Are you trying to tell us the city would not "allow" a mural related to, oh, upbeat messages, taxation, government size etc, or are you just miffed the city won’t allow the "Oh, you know the ones" opinions related to bigotry, racism, conspiracy theory bullshit or verifiable falsehood to stand?

"…we should have a gov agency stating what is approved expression…"

You know where the tell is, of your assumption of government censorship as normal, bro? When your platform is "Assume we fsck 1A by allowing government to censor, at which point should government censor" then what you have is an argument. What you have is a thinly disguised false premise.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: 'Screw your rights and lives, think about our feelings!'

the city wouldn’t allow opposing Points of view have similar access to express themselves

I’m not aware of any case law that would require the city to sponsor a "Black Lives Don’t Matter" mural (which is, after all, the opposing viewpoint). Can you cite any? Not being snarky, because when government gets involved in speech it gets complicated quickly.

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Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yeah, but the thing about certain kinds of insults is that they target a broader group of people than the person you’re intending to insult. It’s why you shouldn’t use slurs like the R-word, or insult somebody’s appearance.

"Triggered" is a term from psychology, referring to how certain topics can cause survivors of trauma (frequently, but not exclusively, sexual violence) to relive that trauma. In recognition of this, people began to preface certain sensitive topics with trigger warnings.

The outrage brigade — the same bullies who have been ranting for 40 years about political correctness — adopted "triggered" as an insult, implying, as is their wont, that showing basic compassion for other people is worthy of mockery and derision.

I can understand why you’d want to turn bullies’ own usage back on them, but the problem is, when you do that, they still win. You’re still using "triggered" as an insult, as something that trivializes the word to imply that "triggered" means that someone is weak or oversensitive.

Using "triggered" that way doesn’t just insult your direct targets. It belittles people who experience real triggers.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:


Any police officer that found themselves facing any sort of mental anguish due to a mural needs to go ahead and resign for mental health reasons.
If seeing a mural is giving you anxiety to the point that it affects your job and your job tends to involve tense situations, you’re going to have an oops that costs someone their live (like firing your gun instead or your taser).
A job in law enforcement (should) require a strong mental fortitude… in theory you’ll be taking fire, seeing terrible things and having to make quick decisions… none of which can happen for an individual so mentally fragile that they are unable to work due to a mural.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

I’d say I do hope they go home distressed, humiliated, and embarrassed, but cops usually deal with those emotions by getting drunk and beating their wives. Plus, you know, they’re lying. Just some government leeches who provide nothing of value to society trying to leech more money.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

O M F G…

Fire them.
They are mentally unfit for the job.
If the mural makes them this upset imagine what might happen if someone tried to photograph them beating the crap out of a black kid, or dared call them a pig… These are people who should not have weapons and QI to murder anyone they want.

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Anonymous Coward says:

The first 5 paragraphs of the complaint list the Plaintiffs and refers to them as "competent adults." Clearly, they aren’t.

..At least the mural wasn’t smirking at them in an intimidating manner. They probably would have had heart attacks.

Tanner Andrews (profile) says:

They demand judgment for

Physical, mental, and emotional injuries, pain, distress, suffering, anguish, fright, nervousness, grief, anxiety, worry, shame, mortification, injured feelings, shock, humiliation, and indignity, as well as other unpleasant physical, mental, and emotional reactions, damages to reputation, and other non-economic damages,

As previous comments have noted, these folks are clearly unsuited to be cops. For that matter, they are probably ill-suited for any job calling for performance by a “competent adult”.

Still, I cannot help but think that there will be much greater mortification when they are seen to have their names on this complaint. Imagine if their friends or fellow cops found out that the “Snowflake Five” had let themselves be associated with this. They should probably move to a different state and change their names in order to avoid the shame and humiliation of having people think of them as being the sorts of people who would bring this.

And the lawyers? Well, in filing this thing, they have surely beclowned themselves. That may not be disqualifying in LA. or even in California. Still, imagine how they would feel if a search of Matthew S. McNicholas or of Douglas D. WInter or even of Emily R. Pincin were to reveal connection to this steaming pile. That simply cannot help them.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
PaulT (profile) says:

The only shock here is that they refrained from shooting the mural.

Perhaps Palo Alto might consider hiring adults for the job next time they are hiring, as it seems they accidentally took in small children during their last employment drive.

I can’t imagine being so thin-skinned that I’m filing lawsuits to complain about a picture 7 months after it was removed. Yet, these are supposed to be people capable of dealing with major decisions that can lead to death or injury. That’s scary and offensive.

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