Race comments roil public sector workforce

Many public employees are learning the hard way: The right to free speech doesn’t extend to racist speech when you’re on a taxpayer-funded salary.

Some of the recent examples are particularly egregious. There was the National Guard soldier who could be called in to police protests who wrote on Snapchat about protesters, “You’re all stupid I can’t wait to shoot you tomorrow night.”

The National Guard removed that soldier from active duty while investigating his “inflammatory” comments, the Boston Globe reported.

There are also clear problems when a public official uses a taxpayer-funded social media account for politics – like the Salem police captain who used the department’s Twitter account to criticize state and city officials’ handling of racial protests and the coronavirus pandemic, or the Cambridge police superintendent who inadvertently used the department’s account to describe US Rep. Joe Kennedy using an expletive.

Then there’s the case of a Chicopee Police Department spokesman who wrote a Facebook post comparing the on-field protest of football player Colin Kaepernick with the white police officers who killed George Floyd, an unarmed black man. MassLive reported that the spokesman had a history of controversial social media posts, calling Black Lives Matter a terrorist group and saying the police should be able to shoot looters. He lost his job.

Also in Chicopee, MassLive reported that, at Bellamy Middle School, a teacher lost her job for posting a racist Facebook post that criticized protesters and people on government assistance, and used stereotypes about people on government assistance. The teacher apparently cut and pasted the post, without attribution, from a Georgia mayor, who also got in trouble over it.

Another education controversy — involving a very different scenario — was handled differently. A black teacher from Milton was placed on leave after telling her students that “many cops are racist” during a discussion about racism centering on two poems by black poet Langston Hughes. Her leave was lifted later that day, the Patriot Ledger reported, and the Milton teachers’ union has been protesting her treatment.

The Boston Globe used the incident to take an in-depth look at differences in how racism is talked about in the largely white district of Milton compared to schools in more heavily minority districts in Boston.

Massachusetts is far from the only place where the protests against racism and the simultaneous national pandemic have led to free speech questions. USA Today reported that a University of North Carolina professor kept his job despite outrage over comments he made saying people who wear masks in public look like “fools,” calling the governor a “fascist,” and calling North Carolina a “slave state” because of coronavirus-related restrictions.

There, the university disavowed his comments but said his comments are protected speech, and many First Amendment scholars agreed.

SHIRA SCHOENBERG


BEACON HILL

House Speaker Robert DeLeo supports making Juneteenth an official state holiday. (MassLive)

Hundreds of protesters decried a bill filed by Gov. Charlie Baker last week that would award bonuses up to $5,000 for officers who choose to undergo racial sensitivity training. (WGBH) CommonWealth summarized that plan last week.

There is lots of uncertainty surrounding the state’s annual budget process. (MassLive)

City leaders are pressing state officials not to backtrack on school funding increases included in the sweeping update they passed to the state’s education funding law. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Boston city councilors and Mayor Marty Walsh are in a budget standoff that the administration says will lead to layoffs if not resolved by tomorrow’s council meeting. (Boston Herald)

Massachusetts Maritime Academy has reopened its campus to allow for the in-person training needed for some seniors to graduate. (Cape Cod Times)

Longtime Brockton Ward 3 Councilor Dennis Eaniri put his home up for sale and said he doesn’t plan to run again after paying out a hefty campaign finance violation. (The Enterprise)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

President Trump suspends visas that allow hundreds of thousands of foreigners to work in the US. The visas are hugely popular with businesses that rely on the workers. (New York Times)

Trump favors the idea of another round of stimulus checks, which he thinks will help the economy — and his reelection prospects — but other Republicans and White House aides are not necessarily on board. (Washington Post)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A coalition is urging Massachusetts businesses to commit $1 billion to fighting racial inequities. (Boston Globe)

NASCAR rallies around Bubba Wallace, its only black driver, as a noose is found in his garage at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. Wallace gained visibility recently after successfully urging NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag at races. (Associated Press)

Best Fitness gym files a lawsuit challenging Gov. Charlie Baker’s reopening plan, saying it will drive the company into bankruptcy. (MassLive)

EDUCATION

UMass will offer all its fall courses only online. (Boston Globe)

Amherst College may hold classes outdoors in tents this fall. (MassLive)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The Trump administration will allow rail shipments of liquified natural gas (LNG), over the objections of 15 states, including Massachusetts. (Associated Press)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The office of Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins is investigating a former MBTA police officer’s handling of an incident involving a black homeless man. (WBUR) Rollins told her staff they will have to take furloughs in July as she warns of budget shortfalls. (Boston Herald)

Black activists held a rally opposing Gov. Charlie Baker’s police certification bill. They oppose proposed bonuses for more advanced training and say the bill doesn’t address racial disparities. (MassLive)

Typically, defendants can only be held pre-trial for a certain number of days even if they pose a danger to the public. The SJC ruled that COVID-19-related trial delays stop that clock, and prisoners do not have to be released pre-trial just because their trial gets pushed off due to COVID-19. (The Salem News)

MEDIA

The Columbia Journalism Review analyses the way the New York Times corrects little errors but often takes forever to admit broader mistakes.

ICYMI: The Washington Post dissects a racial incident at a Halloween party held by its editorial page cartoonist — in 2018.