Warning: This article contains profanity and racial slurs that may be disturbing to some readers.
WILMINGTON — On Monday, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law wrote to the City of Wilmington, arguing that the reinstatement of fired Wilmington Police officer James Brian Gilmore could undermine public trust in the department and that the city’s Civil Service Commission is not legally obligated to protect Gilmore’s “racist hate speech.”
The Lawyers’ Committee, a non-partisan non-profit founded in 1963 at the direction of President John F. Kennedy to address civil rights issues, argues that reinstating Gilmore would ultimately make the community less safe. (You can find the complete letter at the end of the article and online here).
Gilmore is one of three veteran WPD officers fired by new Police Chief Donny Williams in June after two conversations were accidentally caught on camera, engaged in racist conversations. Gilmore, along with Jesse E. Moore II and Kevin Michael Piner, had each been on the force for over twenty years.
Gilmore recently notified the city through his attorney that he would be appealing Chief Williams’ decision to fire him. Gilmore’s appeal, which will be heard by the Civil Service Commission, argues that his comments were not racist but instead matters of ‘public concern’ protected by the First Amendment. His appeal also noted that the Internal Affairs investigation found he had not violated the same policies as Moore and Piner.
Gilmore’s appeal does not denounce the more incendiary comments made by the other officers, including Piner’s now infamous statement: “We are just gonna go out and start slaughtering them fucking ni—–s. I can’t wait. God, I can’t wait.”
The Lawyer’s Committee cites the IA report, “Officer Gilmore participated in disturbingly racist conversations with Officer Michael Piner, in which they ridiculed Black people, criticized the protests against racism occurring across the nation, and expressed regret that the WPD did not deploy harsher measures against civilian protestors.”
The committee’s letter considers some of Gilmore’s actual statements.
“When speaking about the protests, Piner complained to Gilmore that the WPD was only concerned with ‘kneeling down with the [B]lack folks.’ Gilmore responded by telling Piner that he watched a social media video about white people bowing down and ‘worshipping [B]lacks,’ exclaiming ‘how many times have I told you it’s almost like they think they [Black people] [are] their own God?’ Gilmore then told Piner about a second video he had seen of a ‘fine-looking white girl and this punk little pretty boy bowing down and kissing their toes.’ Later, Gilmore derided a fellow Black officer on the force, to which Piner replied ‘let’s see how his boys take care of him when shit gets tough, see if they don’t put a bullet in his head.'”
Lawyers’ Committee counter-arguments
The Lawyer’s Committee takes issue with Gilmore’s appeal, arguing that simply by participating in racist conversations, Gilmore jeopardized the relationship between the police and the community.
“Even the perception of police officers harboring racist sentiment jeopardizes the integrity of law enforcement agencies, endangers individual officers and community members alike, and deepens the divide between police forces and communities of color. Communities who lose trust in law enforcement are less likely to productively engage with police, which may obstruct the application of justice and make communities less safe. These very dangers are evident in Wilmington,” the committee wrote.
The Lawyers’ Committee notes that the happenstance recording of Piner, Moore, and Gilmore suggests it unlikely the conversations were an isolated incident — pointing to a deeper problem.
“[B]ecause the Department discovered the video recordings entirely by chance, the public will likely lack confidence that the officers had not previously engaged in similarly offensive discussions or that the WPD has sufficient screening, training, and enforcement protocols to ensure a culture of compliance and respect towards the Black community. Rather, the video may provide the public with insight into a shared culture of discriminatory and offensive behavior within the WPD,” the committee wrote.
The Lawyers’ Committee reviewed the legal precedents for considering First Amendment cases involving public employees and concluded that most of the factors considered by the courts are “weigh against First Amendment protection of Gilmore’s speech.” The committee argues that Gilmore’s interpretation of his comments is not as important as the effect of those comments.
“While Gilmore may claim that his comments were not meant to be disruptive, and rather were just a reflection of his religious belief that one should not worship anyone except God, Gilmore’s intent is irrelevant here: the question is the likely impact of the speech and how it may complicate the ability of both the individual employee and organizational employer to perform their duties,” the committee wrote.
Finally, the Lawyer’s Committee argues that WPD’s own policies should prevent the rehiring of Gilmore.
“WPD policies clearly affirm the WPD’s commitment to unbiased policing and to ‘preventing perceptions of biased policing.’ Officer Gilmore’s racially derogatory remarks and behavior contradict the WPD’s core values and requirements, and risks interfering with its operations by eroding the community’s trust, confidence and willing cooperation with its public officers,” the committee wrote.