In Fort Worth, the Police Department Grapples with Racist Comments Online

Fort Worth police officers have been caught posting racist comments on Facebook
Fort Worth police officers have been caught posting racist comments on Facebook Brandon Harer, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Chadwick Hughes wasn’t shy about his beliefs. On Facebook, he blamed Black people for the majority of violent crimes committed in the country, according to NBC 5. He mocked others for their “white shame,” and he posted a video of a robbery along with the comment, “Dare I say it? Black at it again.”

Up until early February, Hughes was a patrolman in the Fort Worth Police Department, a three-year member of the force who had posted a spate of photos of himself in uniform on his Facebook page. But the department canned Hughes last month, citing his behavior on social media.

Screenshots sent to the Observer show Hughes arguing with other Facebook users over whether police departments had widespread racism within their ranks. When one woman questioned Hughes’ comments, the officer replied harshly. “Take your white shame and move on little girl [sic],” he wrote. “No one has time for your spreading of fake news.”

Since fall 2019, Fort Worth PD has fired three police officers, including Hughes, for “racially insensitive social media posts,” Sgt. Justin Seabourn told the Observer by email.

The other two officers, Roger Ballard and Kelly Kujawski, were fired in September 2020 and March of this year, respectively.

Ballard had reportedly posted a photo of a Black man in a coffin, along with the caption: “The face you make when you don’t understand ‘stop resisting.'”

Kujawski, on the other hand, had posted a meme of a man crossing the border, a sign that reads “East LA” in the background. “If 11 million illegal aliens can help our economy,” the meme reads, “why didn’t they help their own economy?”

But how often do police officers post racist content on social media? A lot, according to one study. In 2019, the Plain View Project, a nonprofit, investigated Facebook accounts belonging to more than 2,900 police officers and 600 retired cops from eight departments nationwide.

One of those the group looked at was the Dallas Police Department, to the tune of 1,047 posts. Many of the posts were violent. Others included bigotry aimed at Black people, Latinos, Muslims and the LGBTQ community, among others. Some mocked Black people killed by police. Others celebrated wanton police violence against protesters.

Of the Dallas PD officers, 109 were active duty and 60 were no longer with the department, according to the Dallas Morning News. Only 13 received disciplinary action, which included counseling and unpaid time off work. Unlike the Fort Worth PD, the Dallas PD fired no one.

Former Fort Worth cop Chadwick Hughes plans to appeal his termination, his attorney, Kirby Wallace, told NBC 5 last month. Neither Hughes nor Wallace could be reached for comment.

Wallace is part of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, or CLEAT, the state’s largest police union. In an email, the union’s public affairs coordinator, Jennifer Szimanski, said only that any officer accused of such social media behavior deserves a chance to appeal.

“CLEAT represents 25,000 officers across the state, and like other Americans, they are owed due process and an opportunity to declare their innocence in disciplinary matters,” she told the Observer.

Szimanski didn't reply to the Observer's request to speak with Wallace.

Fort Worth-based pastor Kyev Tatum says that although he applauds the firings, they do not “address the systemic issues” within Fort Worth PD.

Tatum, who is also president of the Ministers Justice Coalition of Texas, says the racism itself still "permeates" the police department, whether officers express it online or not.

"It's indicative of the attitudes of the officers," he told the Observer of the Facebook posts. "Fort Worth is the largest, most conservative, most Confederate city in the nation."

"Fort Worth is the largest, most conservative, most Confederate city in the nation." - Kyev Tatum, pastor

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In November 2019, the Fort Worth Star Telegram compared Fort Worth’s police shooting data with 11 other cities. Between 2014 and 2019, Fort Worth police officers shot people at a higher yearly average than the other cities.

Of all the cities the Star Telegram studied, Fort Worth “had the second-highest fatal police shooting rate per 100,000 people in 2019, and the third-highest such rate in 2018.”

Among those killed in 2019 was Atatiana Jefferson, a 28-year-old whom a Fort Worth police officer fatally shot in October of that year.

Deadly shootings, over-policing of Black and brown communities and other issues have convinced Tatum that the Fort Worth PD should be put under a federal consent decree, which allows the Justice Department to hold police departments accountable in manners that state or local officials do not.

Tatum said, “When we look at the problems of the Fort Worth police, it's more than the number of insensitive or racist comments on the web.”
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Patrick Strickland is the news editor at the Dallas Observer. He's a former senior reporter at Al Jazeera English and has reported for the New York Review of Books, The Guardian, Politico EU and The New Republic, among others.