Amnesty, a human rights organization, said this week that allegations against many police officers in one California police department are “just the tip of the larger iceberg.”
The organization, which is an independent watchdog, told Newsweek recently that document disclosures filed show that the district attorney in Contra Costa County as well as the FBI have begun an investigation of 17 Antioch Police Department members.
The investigation is looking into the officers who “may have violated the Racial Justice Act” for sending homophobic, racist and explicit text messages to each other. Amnesty said that the department was in need of a “root and branch reform of its police forces.”
This new allegation comes at a time when police departments all over the country are facing concerns over the systemic abuse of power and racism that exists within their ranks.
The mayor of Antioch, Lamar Thorpe, spoke with the San Francisco Chronicle recently and said he was “disgusted” at the texts that the officers sent, which he said “only culture creates.”
The district attorney’s office in the country filed two separate reports showing that officers were alleged to have sent texts that show they conducted traffic stops on Black people just because of their race. Some messages also showed that officers were comparing Black people in the community to monkeys and zoo animals.
Only 17 officers of the APD were named in the investigation, yet many reports say that almost one-quarter of the entire police force has been placed on paid leave due to these allegations. According to the district attorney, as many as 45 officers could be involved in the exchanges, which suggests a much larger problem than initially thought.
Larry Wallace, who works for the Contra Costa County’s District Attorney’s Office as an inspector, compiled two reports in late March that recount some of the text messages. The reports show that officials believe the messages demonstrated that officers have “racial bias and animus towards African Americans and other people of color.” They also shared “homophobic” messages as well as other “explicit language and photographs.”
All of this was part of “an ongoing state and federal criminal investigation which may lead to further disclosures,” Wallace said.
There are many different text message exchanges that were revealed as part of the investigation. One was sent just about one month after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis while in police custody. In that instance, one officer is alleged to have doctored an explicit photo of a Black man sitting on Floyd’s neck.
The police chief of APD, Steve Ford, responded to the allegations against his department recently when he said:
“I condemn – in the strongest possible terms – the racially abhorrent content and incomprehensible behavior being attributed to members of the Antioch Police Department.”
He then apologized on behalf of the entire force “for the hurt caused by this hateful speech.” He further pledged “to hold accountable the officers expressing racist or bigoted beliefs, biased insensitivity, and those boasting about harming members of the community.”