Cancel culture and anti-law enforcement bias

We are serving in difficult times. We face all the traditional dangers of our jobs – crime, drugs and violence – with the added dangers of working during a pandemic. Now a new threat to law enforcement has evolved on social media: cancel culture.

The rise of cancel culture has created an online mob mentality that attempts to cancel anyone whose opinion is different than its own. With everyone taking extra precautions in our battle against the coronavirus and the continued assault on law enforcement following the inexcusable actions by a small handful of officers who were publicly condemned and punished, it has been an uneasy period to be in this profession.

If you think cancel culture is not a threat, look at what happened to our sisters serving in Hopewell Township.

Officer Sara Erwin has more 20 years on the force and is an accomplished D.A.R.E. officer. She was fired for writing on her personal Facebook page to her Facebook friends after an overnight work shift: “Last night as I left for work I had my two kids crying for me not to go to work. I don’t think I’ve ever felt the way I did last night. And then I watched people I know and others I care about going into harm’s way. I love my police family like my own.”

She also wrote: “So when you share posts and things on Facebook I’d really appreciate if you’d THINK before doing so. I’ve seen so many black lives matter [sic] hashtags in these posts. Just to let you know – they are terrorists. They hate me. They hate my uniform. They don’t care if I die.”

The post was on Erwin’s private Facebook page, and she did not identify herself by her full name. The only people who would have seen her post were her friends and she was letting them know that if they are doing #BlackLivesMatter to unfollow her or unfriend her.

This post on her personal Facebook page was not directed at an individual, and she did not even identify herself as a police officer. A second Hopewell officer, Sergeant Mandy Grey, clicked “like” on the personal Facebook post. Sergeant Grey was the first female officer hired in Hopewell and the first woman to make sergeant.

Both officers quickly found themselves in the middle of controversy. (For more details, read the cover story of this issue beginning on page 32.) The ensuing backlash to the initial Facebook post then resulted in a blatant violation of their individual right to free speech while also ignoring decades of service to community in the haste to “cancel” their careers.

This should be a warning to all of us about the potential harms of public social media posts. It may feel good to publicly express opinions, but remember people are watching, and they do not understand our responsibilities or care for our opinions.

The Facebook post was investigated by the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office and no criminal charges were filed. Then politicians in Hopewell decided to hand out their own discipline and Officer Erwin was fired. That’s right, she is being fired/canceled for expressing an opinion about a group on a personal Facebook post. And Sergeant Grey was suspended for six months and told she will lose her rank. Just for clicking “like” on a post that expressed her concern for Sara Erwin’s children and for her personal safety, as well as Officer Erwin’s concern for her brothers and sisters on the job and a personal opinion about a group.

Sara Erwin was hired by the Hopewell Township department in 2001. Mandy Grey has been employed since 1999. Both officers have been decorated public servants for more than 20 years, and neither one has any disciplinary history in their personnel files. As their colleagues would attest, these officers were always among the first and most responsive to requests to help the community.  Whether serving as D.A.R.E. officers or participating in Adopt-A-Cop efforts, Sara Erwin and Mandy Grey have been model officers.

Now Officer Erwin finds herself without a job and without healthcare, caring for two children, including one with special needs, because she posted on Facebook expressing fear and concern and asking for understanding.

Appeals in Superior Court on behalf of Sara Erwin and Mandy Grey are underway. Sara deserves her job back and Mandy should have her rank restored and her six-month suspension rescinded. This is an important lesson about cancel culture against law enforcement: Let’s be careful serving our communities and now also when we want to post opinions on social media.