The assistant police chief of a Louisville, Kentucky suburb has been removed from duty and fired from the force after an internal investigation found racist messages sent from the commanding officer to a prospective recruit, including instructions to "shoot black kids caught smoking marijuana."
According to the Associated Press, Todd Shaw, a 20-year veteran of the Louisville Police Department and most recently the acting police chief of nearby Prospect, Kentucky, was fired in November, more than a year after the hateful messages were sent in September and October of 2016. The content of the messages themselves was not released until this week.
In addition to the vitriolic comments about African-American cannabis users, Shaw wrote messages instructing the potential recruit to sexaully assault the parents of those same smoking kids and made racist remarks about Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., saying that "because someone shot him, I get a day off with pay each year."
Shaw and his lawyer never denied that the racist messages were authentic, but did try to excuse his actions by claiming he was just "playing." Shaw's superiors and Kentucky's justice system, however, aren't laughing.
"Any person who holds these thoughts has no business ever donning a uniform and representing those who have sworn to serve every member of every community," Louisville Police Chief Steve Conrad told the AP. "These actions spit in the face of the determined effort hundreds of thousands of law enforcement officers put forth to build trust and legitimacy in the communities they serve."
Unfortunately, Shaw's sentiments are not solely his own, and the connection between racist ideals and the criminalization of cannabis is both historically significant and persistently a modern problem. Earlier this month in Kansas, just two states over from Kansas in Kentucky, State Representative Steve Alford falsely told a room of his legislative peers and local constituents that African Americans are "genetically predisposed" to cannabis.
Rep. Alford has since stepped down from a number of legislative responsibilities, but despite chiding and admonishing from local politicians, activists, and Kansas residents, Alford has not relinquished his seat in the state legislature.
Despite the troublesome news from Kentucky, a number of progressive proposals for cannabis reform have been recently introduced in the Bible Belt, including a bill introduced by a Republican State Senator to fully legalize recreational cannabis in Kentucky. If passed, the move would hopefully take significant power away from unfit police officers like Shaw and help destigmatize cannabis use throughout the state.
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