So today's Philadelphia Inquirer brings us this news:
Five Philadelphia police officers were fired yesterday for alleged misconduct, including two incidents in which officers were accused of using racial slurs.
Among them was William Thrasher, 24, who allegedly called African Americans in his 22d District "animals" and worse.
Thrasher, who had been on the force for two years, was quoted by a Temple University journalism student who was riding with him on patrol for a class assignment. . . . During the ride-along, Thrasher allegedly referred to the violence in his predominantly African American district as "typical n- s-" or "TNS."
Officers Donald Swan and Anthony Ferriola were also dismissed on allegations that they used racial epithets on the job. The remarks allegedly were made toward students while the two responded to a fight March 13 inside Audenried High School in South Philadelphia.
We've come to a pretty unfortunate place when the words "First Amendment" do not even show up in an article like this. Putting aside consideration of what kind of jackass would say stuff like that when he's got a journalism student in the back seat for a ride-along, firing a cop because he said nasty things to a ride-along journalist seems fairly outrageous to me — without any showing that his conduct on the job was in any way deficient.
[And in a nice Kafka-esque touch, given the questions that were raised about the accuracy of the journalism student's account of Thrasher's language, "Chris Harper, the associate journalism professor at Temple who edited McDonald's article, said the commissioner's action vindicated the accuracy of McDonald's work." Nice! The Commissioner fires Thrasher because of the contents of the article, and that shows that the article was accurate!]
[Update: Well, I must say I'm very, very surprised at the comments here. The vast majority of VC readers (or at least VC commenters) don't seem to find any First Amendment issue when the government of Philadelphia fires a policeman for remarks that he made in a conversation with a journalist. I'm stupefied by that, to be candid. That's what I mean when I said "we've come to a pretty unfortunate place" -- the First Amendment, which one would think would quite obviously protect a government employee's speech, has simply lost much of its power, and most people seem to take it for granted that it doesn't apply here. So presumably if a cop were to say "Man, I hate those freaking Democrats," or a state college professor said "Israelis (or Palestinians) are responsible for everything that's gone wrong in the Middle East," or a public school teacher were to say "Gay marriage is an abomination" or "Jews are really pushy, no?" -- no problems giving them the axe. Hugo Black is turning over in his grave (Jefferson, too). Silly me, but I thought the First Amendment meant that the state couldn't punish you for the content of your speech without a truly compelling reason for doing so. I know that the Supreme Court's not been with me on this - but I really did think that most of the VC readers would be.]