On Tuesday, the Mercury News reported on a 21-page investigative report that detailed the terrifyingly racist and abusive digital communications of “nearly two dozen” current and former Antioch, California, police officers over the span of two years. The investigation was conducted by Contra Costa District Attorney Senior Inspector Larry Wallace, along with the FBI, and focuses on private text message groups between officers. The results, so far, have led to at least 11 Antioch officers being put on “leave.” To put that into perspective, about 20% of the entire force has been suspended.
The text messages reveal nothing but racism and abuse. Black citizens are frequently referred to as “gorillas,” “monkeys,” and “water buffalo.” Those are the most tepid of the texts, which also include a message from June 2020, wherein Officer John Ramirez wrote to fellow officers that he would buy an expensive San Francisco steak dinner for anyone who shot Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe with a non-lethal crowd control weapon. This was during the Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.
The report is only the first of two; the second has not yet been made public. It was released to defense attorneys by Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Clare Maier on Friday, as a grand jury continues to go through possible criminal charges relating to “at least eight Antioch police officers,” who are allegedly being investigated for “fraud, distribution of steroids and cocaine, as well as eliciting false confessions and accepting bribes to make traffic tickets go away.”
Tuesday’s detailed report by the Mercury News coincided with an already scheduled Antioch City Council session. That session went about as well as one might imagine.
During the public comment portion of the city council meeting on Tuesday, Mayor Thorpe got into an intense back-and-forth with Sal Sbranti, a resident who decided to defend the Antioch Police and called for an investigation of Mayor Thorpe for “creating a hostile work environment,” whatever that means. Sal Sbranti’s comments included a moment where he attempted a whataboutism, saying, “Let’s get your text messages!” to Thorpe. Thorpe responded, “Let’s get it. Get it!” he said, calling Sbranti’s bluster out as the bluff it is.
After running through everyone not on the police force in Antioch’s city government and ending on some ramble about how the “culture change” in the police force was getting better but that the mayor was ruining the “culture,” Mayor Thorpe stood up and called Sbranti’s comments a dog whistle for what is wrong in Antioch. “I am sick and tired of being attacked by these people in this community apologizing for the racism going on in this community. You’re the problem! You’re the problem!”
A furious Thorpe left the chambers and the council went into a recess.
Sbranti, who was defending the police officers while attacking Mayor Thorpe, is defending years of text threads that include sentiments such as:
“I was bummed that beast was so fat cuz he didn’t bruise up very fast,” written about a Black man who was arrested, and followed up by exchanges like, “It never looks good on black guys,” followed by “Just like jobs and responsibilities.”
One officer boasted how a police friend of his in another city can use the N-word “even in group messages with supervisors and IA [internal affairs] sergeants,” without getting in trouble.
Exchanges where officers say things like “I’ll bury that n—– in my fields,” followed by, “And yes….it was a hard R on purpose.”
And other threadbare racist thoughts we wish were simply too hackneyed to continue on, like saying Black people “all look the same,” and, referring to being in the Black communities they patrolled and ticketed, “I feel like I’m at the zoo.”
This report’s exposure comes just a couple of weeks after Mayor Thorpe spoke at a news conference about reports that a grand jury was weighing evidence against multiple officers. After saying that he couldn’t go into details, it was very clear that the city would have to pay an “excessive amount of money” to manage the resulting litigation in the next weeks and months. At that press conference, Thorpe promised that his administration was “not going to sweep these matters under the rug as we’ve done in the past,” adding:
“To say that I am outraged is an understatement as it relates to this matter. I’m deeply disappointed because for a long time, those of us who have been elected to serve in this very room behind me have failed to ask tough questions about what’s happening in our various city departments, including the police department.
There is a steady stream of examples disproving the egregious “bad apple” defense law enforcement apologists use to deny the need for meaningful reform. It is time to stop pretending we must be diplomatic with people’s feelings on the matter.
You can watch the exchange between Mayor Thorpe and the police apologist below.