Hours before a White House meeting between a black Harvard professor and a white Cambridge police officer intended to promote racial harmony, Boston police officials held a news conference to decry an e-mail sent by an officer that contained racist slurs.
Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis said the comments in the letter written by Officer Justin Barrett were "racist and inflammatory."
"These racist opinions have no place in our department or our society and will not be tolerated," said Davis, who was flanked by leaders in the black community at the news conference.
"We will not allow the unacceptable actions of one member to define who we are," he said.
"This is an issue that is not reflective of the department, but everybody knows one flat tire will stop your whole car," said Minister Don Muhammad of the Nation of Islam. "Where there's smoke, there's fire. We need to put out the flames of racial hatred anywhere that it exists."
Officer Justin Barrett was suspended Tuesday after allegedly sending a copy of the racially charged e-mail about Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. to The Boston Globe and colleagues at the National Guard, referring to Gates as a "jungle monkey."
Gates and Sergeant James Crowley, the officer who arrested him at his Cambridge home on July 16, are slated to meet at 6 p.m. today with President Obama at the White House. Crowley's arrest of Gates for disorderly conduct at his own home sparked a national debate over police relations with minority communities.
A copy of Barrett's e-mail, which was addressed to Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham and criticized her July 21 column on the Gates incident, was released by police today. The long, rambling, angry screed against Abraham criticized her writing, her views, and Gates. Abraham writes today that Barrett's email was one of many that she deleted.
Of Gates, the e-mail said, "His first priority of effort should be to get off the phone and comply with police, for if I was the officer he verbally assaulted like a banana-eating jungle monkey, I would have sprayed him in the face with OC [pepper spray] deserving of his belligerent non-compliance." The e-mail also used the phrase "jungle monkey" two other times.
Barrett's lawyer, Peter Marano, said his client, who did a tour of duty in Iraq in 2005, would not be speaking publicly.
"He's facing military criminal charges for this," said Marano. He said Barrett's letter could be construed as "conduct unbecoming in the military" and that could lead to time in the stockade -- or even the death penalty.
A National Guard spokesman said late this afternoon that Barrett was not facing criminal charges and there was no way that he would face the death penalty.
Barrett will fight the department if he is fired, Marano said.
"I think the department has taken such an outwardly over-proportional response," he said. "We have police officers who do heroin, cocaine and keep their job, beat their wives, keep their jobs. The mayor isn't out on TV saying they're g-o-n-e ... The issue is that it's a private e-mail from a private computer at home."
Mayor Thomas M. Menino said Wednesday that Barrett's actions wouldn't be tolerated. "He's gone -- g-o-n-e. I don't care, it's like cancer, you don't keep those cancers around."
Barrett was suspended Tuesday. Officials said he would be subject to a termination hearing.
The Rev. Eugene Rivers said the incident was "unfortunate," but he was more concerned about the recent shooting of a 12-year-old girl in a flurry of bullets fired by gang members armed with assault weapons.
He said he wanted to "get off the theater and the language" and focus on talking about the "real issue" of violence in the streets.
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