I look forward to the day where I can stop blogging about governments and police departments foolishly using social media when discussing the tragedy in Ferguson and New York. Unfortunately, today is not that day.
The hashtag #ICantBreathe has become a popular one in light of the non-indictment of police officer Daniel Pantaleo after the death of Eric Garner. Unless you have been under a rock, you have seen the nationwide protests as a result of the lack of indictment.
Some of those protests took place in Indianapolis, Indiana, where protesters were watched by the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. During the protests, two were arrested at Monument Circle in the city. One Twitter user was upset about the arrests and tweeted at the IMPD:
The IMPD responded thusly:
The tweet was deleted later, but way too late, and the media quickly picked up on its snarky and disrespectful nature.
The police officer who sent it was office Kendale Adams. Adams, who is black, apologized for the tweet, saying he meant no disrespect:
“Our issue has nothing to do with Eric Garner. As an African-American officer, why would I touch that issue?”
Okay, fine. Then he added:
“We don’t have a doctorate in Twitter,” Adams said. “We’re learning. That was a learning opportunity. We apologize.”
The department also deleted the tweet an used Twitter to apologize:
Naturally, the apology was not well taken by many:
It should go without saying that police departments – and governments in general – have an obligation to use social media appropriately and respectfully. The tweet was fine until the completely unnecessary edition of the #WeCanBreathe hashtag, which clearly mocks the protestors, and could easily be interpreted as mocking the death of Garner himself. This was a foolish move and an unforced error, and then one that was compounded by the apology: “We don’t have a doctorate in Twitter.”
When you make a social media error, you don’t say, “Gee, sorry, I don’t have a doctorate in Twitter.” You say sorry, pledge to learn from the experience, explain how it will never again, and move on. I would also say that it would be wise if the Twitter account responded personally to some users, at least those who appeared local. They clearly offended many of the people they are supposed to protect, and at a time where relations between police departments and citizens are particularly strained. Attempting to interact on a personal level with critics would likely go a long way to restoring some of the broken trust.