THE NEWSLETTER of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, not surprisingly, contains a lot of material tailored to the specific concerns of its members — messages from the union’s leaders, updates on the status of contract negotiations, complaints about policies that the union opposes. And if some items in the newsletter, called Pax Centurion, have caustic words for political figures like President Obama or Governor Patrick, that’s just free speech in action.
But some items in the May/June edition of Pax Centurion go much further, expressing contempt for what adds up to a wide swath of Bostonians: college professors; “turban tops”; residents of Jamaica Plain, Back Bay, and Beacon Hill; even younger officers. In response to criticism in a previous issue, an Occupy Boston supporter named Bil Lewis writes a letter requesting a meeting with the Pax Centurion editor, Officer Jim Carnell. In response, Carnell mocks the way the letter writer spells his name and insinuates that Lewis is in cahoots with illegal immigrants and perpetrators of welfare fraud. He goes on to say, “Most police officers have to remain quiet because of our positions, but I have the luxury of speaking on behalf of what 99 percent of police officers really think about you and your occupiers.”
Boston police officers must be judged by their performance — which, in the case of the Occupy protests last year, was highly professional. Moreover, a newsletter published for police officers is bound to have a grittier tone than a publication for, say, corporate HR managers, and members of the patrolmen’s association should have forums where they can express themselves freely. But some of the content is gratuitously offensive, as a statewide minority law enforcement group has pointed out, and advertisers who merely wanted to support police officers were wise to end their relationship with Pax Centurion.
Now it’s time for union members who disagree with the scowling attitude captured in their newsletter to be heard. Otherwise, when one or two officers express contempt for much of the public while claiming to speak for all their colleagues, people are bound to take them at their word.