About 125 to 150 protesters, largely police officers and their families and friends, showed up at the town hall meeting in Franklin, New Jersey tonight to demand the resignation of a Franklin councilman who has been an outspoken critic of police abuse. Not in attendance was the target of their ire, David Fanale, who instead attended the city council meeting in Roxbury to complain about police there, against whom he had filed an Internal Affairs (IA) complaint over what he says was an illegal 2013 police stop.
When he felt that complaint hadn't been treated fairly by the Roxbury Police Department, Fanale turned to his personal Facebook page to express his frustration, eventually posting an image of Calvin peeing on the thin blue line. Someone shared the photo among the law enforcement community, which proceeded to mobilize against him. The local media described the offending illustration (reproduced at right) as Calvin "urinating on what's become a symbol of police sacrifice." Yet for many people who have found themselves on the wrong side of it, the thin blue line represents police corruption and police complicity in corruption.
The local police union president, Nevin Mattessich, had no problem using dead police officers and their families to get the upper hand against Fanale, who as a councilman says he has not shown police the deference they expect form elected officials. "I've had widows who've lost their husbands who are officers in the line of duty. I've had family members who've lost their sons and daughters in the line of duty who've contacted me to express how upset they were," Mattesich told local TV station My 9, later claiming Fanale's oath involved promising to work with them. "Mr. Fanale took an oath to be impartial, to be fair and to technically work with us and try to make Franklin better. What he's done here is he's gained a tremendous amount of unnecessary attention and he's actually taking away from the Borough of Franklin," he said.
Other cops chimed in too to explain why they thought Fanale was wrong. One retired New York City police officer involved in the effort to target Fanale told the Star-Ledger "everyone has the right to free speech, but there are limitations to it." It's doubtful he or many other officers would choose to apply that standard in limiting the things union bosses say. Given the monopoly on the legal use of initiatory force police officers have, there's a far stronger case for limiting what union bosses can say about elected officials, since it's so easy for them to intimidate others, than what elected officials can say about police officers.
While Fanale is an outspoken critic of police abuse who says he's commited to holding police accountably as a council man, his votes so far have not been unusually anti-police. When the council voted on a new patrol car for the Franklin Police Department, Fanale says he voted for it. He did vote against funding a seatbelt ticketing initiative. It's hardly a record that threatens the gravy train police officers have commandeered for themselves. "Their belief is that no office holder, no elected official should oppose the police," says Fanale. He says the police union wants him and another councilman removed from office because the two were "not going to give them everything they want." In fact pro-police residents (largely retired cops) were pushing for Fanale's removal before the Calvin incident, as early as March of this year, because of comments Fanale made critical of police.
In an interview with Reason, Fanale said "a lot of stuff" was going on with the Franklin Police Department and described two incidents he's focused on—in one a Franklin cop made a dangerous U-Turn that led to a collision with a septuagenarian driver. Fanale says the city refused to pay the driver's $250 deductible from the accident. In another, a Franklin cop ran into a pet store to save some animals from a smoke-filled room. Fanale says the police union called it an "inferno" but that there was no evidence of a fire. Also unmentioned in the police union's narrative of the hero cop is that the cop now has a workers' compensation claim from the incident, which did not occur on duty or under orders.
Fanale says because of the attention focused on him by the law enforcement community he's seen death threats posted in online comments, and even his home address.
Fanale ran for city council last year. He says the mayor, multiple council members and even a state assemblywoman suggested he run. He said he had the backing of the Republican party during his run but was at the time already shifting toward a more libertarian outlook on politics, driven by an interest in Ron Paul's 2012 campaign and subsequent involvement with the Campaign for Liberty. He says he has no intention to resign. Some residents say they want to recall him but by law that process can't be started until Fanale's served a year in office. Fanale says he's learned that for cops, his freedom of speech ends "where their feelings begin," comparing police officers' reaction to being offended over the image he posted to what extremist jihadis do to people and media outlets that publish image of Mohammed, which some Muslims consider prohibited based on certain hadiths, or recorded sayings of Mohammed.