Group of officers sues Philly police over web site
By Patrick Walters
PHILADELPHIA — A group of black police officers has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the Philadelphia Police Department over an Internet discussion forum on which officers have allegedly posted hundreds of racist comments.
The Guardian Civic League filed the lawsuit in federal court Thursday.
The league, along with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers, wants the department to have the site shut down. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and discipline for those behind the 10-year-old Web forum, Domelights.com, which is not run by the department.
The site bills itself as "the voice of the good guys."
The suit maintains that officers often make postings from department computers and that it is well-known among members of the nation's fourth-largest department. Though postings are anonymous, the site's founder and moderator - who uses the screen name "McQ" - is known to be an active sergeant in the department, the suit alleges.
"The Guardian Civic League has been watching Domelights for the past two years," said Rochelle Bilal, the group's president. "We are sick and tired of them hurting our people by their comments. ... They are further dividing this institution."
The lawsuit cites racially derogatory commentary on the site, including one posting that says: "Guns don't kill people ... Dangerous minorities do." Other posts include racial slurs and encourage racial profiling, according to the lawsuit.
Material on the site is often discussed in the workplace, the lawsuit said, creating a hostile work environment for black officers.
Philadelphia's 6,800-member department has more than 2,300 black officers, nearly 35 percent of the force. About 55 percent of the force is white.
A police spokeswoman and a representative of the city's law department declined comment on the suit. A message left with the Fraternal Order of Police was not immediately returned.
"They need to step up and stop this conduct," said attorney Brian Mildenberg, who represents the plaintiffs.
Mildenberg said he had been working with the Guardian Civic League on the lawsuit for about a year, poring over the site's archives and interviewing 20-30 black officers. The suit does not identify the officers believed to be running the site, or how many could be involved.
Sgt. Shaun Butts, a veteran who attended a news conference announcing the lawsuit, said postings often allege that black officers who get promoted must have cheated on their exams.
"It's always quoted as 'We're all blue,'" Butts said. "But then it makes you think, 'Are we really all blue?'"