Lt. Pedrini and the Danger of His Dehumanizing Language

Letters to the Editor

Originally Published November 14, 2019 in the Arlington Advocate

I reject the argument from retired Arlington police officers, Jack Bass and Joyce Wilson, that criticism of Lt. Rick Pedrini’s writings should stop, and that his racist columns should be respected as “free speech”. While the First Amendment does protect an officer’s right to write and speak as s/he pleases, it does not require those who employ them and to whom they are accountable — the tax-paying citizens of Arlington — to tolerate their behavior. Employers have the right to terminate employees for violating their values, especially so if the nature of that speech indicates that the person who engaged in it possesses biases that would compromise their ability to carry out the duties of their job — which has heavy implications with a police officer advocating violence and brutal force against vulnerable demographics. This threatens the safety of the very public they are entrusted with protecting.

The officers write that Lt. Pedrini’s “satirical” writings should not be taken seriously by non-police community members, because they were meant as an inside joke only for police. Does this mean that it is okay for police to share among themselves the most degrading and contemptuous depictions of those they are sworn to protect and serve, without the knowledge or oversight of their employers, us? Was this intended to be comforting?

Writing and sharing “satire” that portrays our most vulnerable citizens as “maggot criminals” and “human excrement” is never acceptable, even and particularly if the characterizations were meant for consumption by other police officers. This rhetoric is toxic and threatening, and spreading it among police officers is not a form of innocuous “dark” humor; it is the weaponization of dehumanizing language against our most vulnerable citizens. This trend of dehumanization is dangerous and studies have shown it leads to an increased willingness to perpetrate violence. When we dehumanize others, we no longer see them as people like us, we “deny them the consideration, compassion and empathy that we typically give other people. It can relax our instinctive aversion to aggression and violence. Studies have found that once a person has dehumanized another person or group, they’re less likely to consider their thoughts and feelings.” (TheConversation.com)

As police are tasked with “protecting and serving” their communities, and are armed with weapons designed to kill, I believe they should be held to the highest standards of professionalism and responsibility. Until that happens, I will not “move on.”

Elizabeth Dray
Executive Director
Arlington-Teosinte Sister City Project