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Lexington’s police union is playing a dangerous game.
After the Urban County Council listened to constituents and banned a very small tool in the police department’s arsenal, the Fraternal Order of Police Bluegrass Lodge 4 went on a social media warpath targeting people it called “radically anti-police agitators,” who supported the no-knock warrant ban. The targets included council members who voted 10-5 for the ban.
The FOP sounds like whiny little babies without much sense of history. You know who else used words like “radical” and “agitators?” Segregationists who hated the civil rights protesters who came into Southern towns in the early 1960s to get Black people the right to vote.
The FOP has tried to tie the ban to Lexington’s rising homicide count, which isn’t even logical. The union has squandered what Mayor Linda Gorton called an opportunity to move forward on police reform and an opportunity to build trust between Lexington’s Black community and the Lexington police. Instead, the FOP sued the city over the ban.
The FOP has targeted Black women, already vulnerable because of their public advocacy for police reform. Sisters April Taylor and Sarah Williams organized day after day of peaceful protests in Lexington last summer. Yes, they have salty language, which they sometimes turned on police, but they made sure that, unlike other places, the protests were peaceful.
We could dismiss the FOP’s tantrum except that its incendiary language could have real-life results. April Taylor said last summer, a car drove to her rural home and someone announced themselves as Lexington police. When she didn’t answer the door, they drove away. She’s received death threats. Another protester, James Woodhead, said he has got online rape threats against his wife. Jess Bowman’s work address was shared in a comment on the FOP page. She had appeared before the council to beg the city to do something.
“They are ramping up people who are rabid and angry,” Bowman told me. “They’re misconstruing what we’re asking for — no one has ever called for violence against the police, we just want reform and accountability.”
Attorney Daniel Whitley represents several of the protesters. “Lobbying groups should be careful in how they engage with this because it seems like they’re trying to usurp the power of the people,” he said. “It seems very dangerous that the FOP is identifying these individuals with harsh political rhetoric because it could jeopardize their lives.”
The FOP is made up of officers who work for Mayor Linda Gorton and the Urban County Council. In an interview, Gorton said she didn’t understand why the union was harassing people after the vote. “It’s bullying,” she said. “I’m not a fan.”
Lexington Police Chief Lawrence Weathers was more plain-spoken.
“What they’re putting on social media does not represent the Lexington Police Department at all,” he said. “After what we’ve been through, it’s clear that we understand that people will have criticisms against us, but as a department we practice tolerance, patience and discipline and that should come through in what we do, and that’s not what I’ve seen in the social media posts.”
Former Urban County council member and attorney Scott Crosbie, who has already mixed GOP politics into the debate, could surely tell one of his biggest clients to tamp it down, but he hasn’t.
The FOP is also endangering next month’s show trials against Taylor, Williams, Woodhead and other protesters who still face nonsensical charges of inciting riots. How can they get a fair trial now if a jury pool is tainted by the FOP’s incessant name-calling?
“There really is this feeling that we hope we pull a jury that will buck the system,” Taylor said, “because the FOP runs this city and the people who run the highest ranking offices are unwilling to stand up to them.”
The no-knock warrant ban could have been a watershed moment. It could have opened a door of trust, where more people would talk to police about the crime that plagues our community. Instead, a few social media hotheads at the FOP are ruining that possibility and putting people’s lives in danger at the same time. To protect and serve indeed.