What kind of opinions are you allowed to hold as a police chief?
Can you post memes? How controversial are those memes allowed to be? If someone finds it racist — even though it isn’t necessarily racist — is that grounds for firing?
In Orland Hills, Illinois, it is. Police Chief Thomas Scully, who has served the community for 15 years, was sacked Sept. 9.
According to WBBM-TV, the firing was due entirely to a meme Scully posted on his personal Facebook page about looting.
“Looting… when free housing, free food, and free education just aren’t enough,” the image read, along with people lining up outside the broken window of a store.
“We hold all of our public officials to the highest standards in their personal and professional lives in Orland Hills,” a statement from the village said.
“This social media post is in incredibly poor taste. It does not reflect the values of the people of our community, and we will not tolerate such behavior from any of our public officials.”
The meme is on the left in this tweet:
Orland Hills Police Dept. dismissed Police Chief Thomas Scully over his biased and troubling Facebook Post. See the village’s statement below: pic.twitter.com/nixphE5TJe
— Tia A. Ewing (@TIA_EWING) September 9, 2020
I suppose there are the usual admonitions about posting things on your personal social media accounts and expecting that they’ll stay between friends, but this still brings up a serious question: Is this a fireable offense?
Orland Hills said the meme “is in incredibly poor taste.” The poor taste isn’t explained. Now, to be clear, I’m not saying it’s not in poor taste. The question is whether that poor taste is something a government employee should lose their job over.
But wait, you say. Scully is the chief of police! He’s not just some dingbat filling out spreadsheets in the county clerk’s office.
This is true. But let’s examine what’s said in the meme.
First, this seems to be an attack on entitlements more than anything. Implying that looters are all on government assistance isn’t necessarily sound reasoning or judgment, but it’s not necessarily a reason for termination.
It could also be seen as an attack on government institutions that have done little to prevent looting over the past four months. Is Orland Hills, 30 miles south of Chicago and not necessarily a major target for looting, afraid its police captain is suddenly going to go Bull Connor if a riot develops there? He’s been serving with the department for 15 years. If they’ve countenanced him this long, one would hope they knew the standards he held himself to.
Racism? All of the individuals pictured in this meme are black. Intentional? Perhaps. I didn’t make the meme — nor, I assume, did Scully. I can’t read into the motives of someone who did. The content of the meme isn’t racist, however — it just decries looting, which is a bad thing, no matter how much Vicky Osterweil may try to normalize it.
So, why fire him?
This swims against the current that law enforcement is supposed to be following.
We expect our police these days to be apologetic and understanding. If rioters are damaging property, that’s just lashing out at an oppressive system. Looting is in. Looting is fine. It’s like smoking a joint — sure, it may be illegal in your state, but it’s not that bad. This is what systemic racism leads to. It’s not destruction, it’s an expression of liberation.
Even if you agree the meme “is in incredibly poor taste,” the firing raises questions about whether we live in a society where someone can still apologize for their actions.
You’ll note you didn’t hear anything from Scully about this. What he had to say was likely irrelevant in Orland Hills’ decision. Did he have a chance to ask forgiveness, to prove that the meme wasn’t necessarily indicative of who Thomas Scully was or how dedicated he was to the community? Or was he summarily dismissed?
Granted, there are certainly disqualifying acts that demand firing. If the chief broke the law or was derelict in his duty, yes, absolutely — we wouldn’t be having this discussion.
Posting a meme on one’s personal Facebook account doesn’t rise to that level.
While I’m not privy to the personnel matters in Orland Hills, from the outside this looks very much like a man who was dismissed because the meme touched off politically correct nerves in an anti-police environment.
No, I don’t particularly believe the meme Scully posted was in great taste. I also think dismissing a 15-year public servant over it — apparently without even allowing him to apologize, if he wished to — is a disheartening augury of what we’re going to see going forward.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.