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.