By Gregory Moore
If you haven’t heard it by now, the Boston Police Department is in the process of firing one of its own; Justin Barrett.
Using bigoted language that he wrote in an email while off duty.
Let’s put Barrett’s email in context shall we?
First off the man was off duty and reading the Boston Globe; which is the target of his electronic rant. The Gates arrest just happens to be the target of his rant.
Barrett is evidently addressing the article in which was published about the arrest and he is responding to the reporter’s entry with both disdain and unmitigated gall as a former English teacher. Henceforth you now have a backdrop to his own state of mind.
But let’s just take a peek at where the good officer, who has a right to free speech, went way off course.
“Your defense [4th paragraph] of Gates while he is on the phone while being confronted [INDEED] with a police officer is assuming he has rights when considered a suspect. He is a suspect and will always be a suspect. His first priority of effort should be to get off the phone and comply with police, for if I was the officer he verbally assaulted like a banana-eating jungle monkey, I would have sprayed him in the face with OC deserving of his belligerent non-compliance. Further [5th paragraph], a reader may assume that crimes only happen in back alleys at 0300?! You’re kidding me, right? Are you still in the 5th grade, Catholic School? That paragraph was as pathetic as jungle monkey gibberish – I might as well ax you the question. ‘Is this your first test at reporting?'”
Okay besides wanting to really nit pick Barrett’s writing style and his obvious misspellings and grammatical tact, we get a glimpse at how many times he used the word “jungle monkey”. There are two entries and both of them are used as adjectives.
Here is where I am going to differ myself from everyone else.
I can see Barrett’s writing style and see how people are jumping to conclusions.
Barrett is trying to convey that Dr. Henry Gates’ actions were that of a wild monkey in a tree in the jungle.
It may be a bad way to describe a human emotion but I see the man trying to work this.
Evidently his bosses can’t and neither is the rest of the country.
When I read the email, I had to get over the anger that I would have initially thought because I had automatically profiled (there’s that ugly word) Barrett based off of an unknown disposition that was in my head.
But as you find out when you read the email itself, what Barrett is not is a bigot or a racist but a very bad writer who might want to not brag about being a writer and a former English teacher.
As my good friend Richard Prince loves to point out, “copy editors are your best friends”, Mr. Barrett needed a slew of copy editors/writers on this piece.
But what makes this country so crazy about race that we are ready to label everyone a bigot or racist?
Is it their words in print? Is it what we hear them say on radio and television?
Or is it their actions?
As much as anyone I love the fact that we have a right to free speech but that is not an unconditional right up under the Constitution.
Sometimes when you are in certain fields or occupations, you are going to have those rights restricted and what Joe Six Pack may be able to do, you, if you are in a certain occupation or career field, cannot.
Don’t believe me?
Ask Lee Landor, former deputy press secretary to the Manhattan borough president, Scott M. Stringer.
She has resigned over several comments that she made on Facebook.
Now whether Ms. Landor or Mr. Barrett didn’t know, their jobs fall up under that ‘free speech restriction’ because they are considered public servants.
Ms. Landor was a trained journalist who should have known better but like Barrett, she let her emotions dictate her prose and it got her in trouble.
While many writers allow their emotions to fuel their writings, what you cannot do is let your emotions overtake your writing.
When you read Barrett’s email, which is exactly what you see happening and it gets worse as you read it.
His emotionally charged writing has a consequence and that consequence is being dictated by what he does for a living.
What is also painfully evident is that Barrett, and Landor for that matter, didn’t realize that putting your occupation in your correspondence was the trigger for a firing or resignation.
What if Barrett just said “J. Barrett”?
What if he didn’t put all of that stuff about being a writer, former teacher and current police officer>?
Would we know who he is?
What of Ms. Landor?
If she didn’t have all of her professional credentials out on Facebook could she have still said what she said?
Te point is that words have consequences; especially how they are put together.
I have written over 2,500 op/eds in my career and many a time I have used my title in them.
Many of those op/eds deal with race in some fashion.
Am I emotional when I write many of them?
Sure I am.
But I also am in control of my writing and I am aware of the consequences certain words may have and how they affect my career and family.
Landor and Barrett didn’t take that into consideration when they penned their writings.
Now they are facing some tough lessons during hard, economic times.
The bottom line is that you have to be aware of your tone in your writing.
The tone of words does have consequences.
For Officer Barrett and Ms. Landor that meant termination of employment over something that should have been a civil discussion.
Not a display of vitriol and pent up frustrations that we all may be feeling.
But when you let your raw emotions dictate your prose, that is what happens and it can be costly.