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A black police officer in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, says he’s been subjected to racist abuse by his white colleagues — including an incident where one pointed a loaded gun at him — and denied promotions because of his race.
Now, he’s had enough. Christopher J. Williams, an eight-year veteran of the force, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit last month accusing the city of Murfreesboro and police Chief Michael Bowen of promoting and being complicit in a “hostile work environment” for himself and his black colleagues. Williams alleges that his experiences violate federal civil rights laws and the Tennessee Human Rights Act.
Racist encounters between police officers and black civilians have long been the object of heavy scrutiny, especially since the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement five years ago. But when the same simmering racial tensions play out within police departments, it’s often behind the “Blue Wall of Silence,” a term used to describe a culture where officers would rather look the other way than report on their colleagues’ misconduct.
Williams isn’t the first black officer to speak up about his experiences. Just this week, a black female officer in Kansas filed a federal lawsuit alleging she was discriminated against on about of her race and gender.
Last month, a police detective in Austin, Texas, filed a federal lawsuit upon learning that the assistant chief had referred to him using the n-word. In June, a black off-duty officer in St Louis sued the city after he was shot by a white police officer.
And earlier this year, two separate investigations exposed hundreds of officers across the country for sharing racist memes on their personal Facebook pages or belonging to Facebook groups that peddle bigotry.
In the Murfreesboro case, Williams alleges that he was retaliated against when he tried to report abuse, like when one of his white colleagues cocked a loaded gun and pointed it at him when they were walking into a meeting. He said another officer accused him of prioritizing “black lives over blue lives,” while another accused him of being “racially insensitive” to African Americans.
When he tried to complain to his supervisors, who are white, they did nothing, Williams said.
Last December, Williams said that an officer “screamed in his face using racially degrading terms, talking about his dark complexion.” Another officer witnessed the incident and reported it to HR. Again, Murfreesboro Police Department did nothing, according to the lawsuit. In fact, the department promoted the officer who screamed racial abuse.
According to the lawsuit, the police department has “pervasive and discriminatory policies and practices to keep African-Americans from promotion,” and no black officer has been promoted since 2014.
“The city of Murfreesboro and Chief Bowen strongly deny all allegations of discrimination and/or wrongdoing asserted by Officer Williams in his lawsuit,” wrote Murfreesboro police spokesperson Larry Flowers in a statement.
Cover image: Mihajlo Maricic / EyeEm via Getty Images