“A pack of rabid animals.” That’s how John McNesby, president of the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police, described local Black Lives Matter activists who picketed outside the home of a Philly cop who shot black suspects in the back on two separate occasions. After the officer was suspended, the local FOP had a fund-raiser for him, with proceeds from the $40-per-ticket event going toward the officer’s living expenses.
McNesby made the remarks at a Back the Blue rally in August, and caught heat for his choice of words. It wasn’t the first time. Another Philly cop made headlines last year for having a tattoo of a spread-winged eagle under the word “Fatherland.” McNesby defended the cop’s apparent shout-out to the official emblem of the Nazi Party, saying the tattoo was “not a big deal.”
In my book Chokehold: Policing Black Men, I argue that the US criminal-justice system is premised on the control of black men and that this fact explains some of its most problematic features—mass incarceration, the erosion of civil liberties, brutal policing, and draconian sentences. The behavior of McNesby and FOP leadership more broadly further supports my claim.
Even as law enforcement has become more racially diverse, the FOP seems committed to white men in charge. And its leaders consistently take stances against the safety and rights of black Americans. As a result, the organization serves as a union cum fraternity for white cops and has a retrograde effect on policing, especially as it relates to civil rights.
The FOP is the nation’s largest police association, boasting more than 300,000 members belonging to its 2,000 or so local chapters—some of which are unions and others which are simply fraternal organizations. There’s also a national FOP that lobbies on various issues pertaining to law enforcement and labor.
The FOP’s national leadership consists of seven white men. Such a lack of diversity is striking in an organization that claims that 30 percent of its members are officers of color. And many local chapters appear to be run by white cops—even in cities with police forces that are predominantly of color.
Baltimore’s police department, for example, is 44 percent black, but its FOP has never had a black leader. The DC FOP chapter board is mainly white, even though the Metropolitan Police Department is predominately black. The Chicago FOP has no black officers on the executive leadership team. Neither does the nine-member executive board of the California state group.
Time and time again, those who are empowered to speak on behalf of the FOP have made it a point to support police officers involved in questionable shootings of black Americans and other alleged abuses.