A spokesperson for a Western Massachusetts police department known for his social media presence is facing backlash for comments shared online.
In a Facebook comment, Chicopee police information officer Michael Wilk compared the on-field protests of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to the Minneapolis police officers involved in the arrest of George Floyd. Floyd died Monday after being pinned to the ground by officers during his arrest.
“Kaeprnick (sic) is just as wrong as those cops,” Wilk wrote. “Kneeling disrespects a flag that many have died for honorably. Those cops will be criminally charged and prosecuted as they should be. Doesn’t give someone the right to dishonor those that gave their lives for a country.”
The comment was made via his personal Facebook page, not the Chicopee Police Department page.
Kaepernick made national attention for taking a knee before the national anthem in protest of police brutality during the 2016 NFL season.
Floyd, a 46-year-old man, died Monday after Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck while he was in handcuffs for over eight minutes during his arrest, constricting his breathing and eventually causing him to be unresponsive. In video captured by witnesses, Floyd is heard pleading that he is struggling to breathe and in severe pain, as Chauvin remained with his knee on his neck.
Floyd was declared dead a short time later at a Minneapolis hospital.
Chauvin and three other officers involved in his death were fired Tuesday as community activists called for their arrests. Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter on Friday.
In days since Floyd’s death, a series of protests have been held both in Minneapolis and across the nation.
Wilk is the longtime spokesperson for the Chicopee Police Department. He posts frequently on the department’s Facebook page which, due to its engaging and timely posts, has more than 25,000 followers. News of arrests and car crashes within the city are shared as are tributes to fallen officers from other departments.
The most recent post, shared by Wilk on the Chicopee Police page, was from the Massachusetts Chief of Police Association, denouncing “the egregious actions taken by four members of the Minneapolis Police Department, whether by action or inaction, that resulted in the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020.” Like the majority of posts shared on the page, it was signed “Ofc Michael Wilk, PIO Chicopee Police Department.”
Wilk spoke with MassLive on Saturday and said he was aware of the reaction his comment has received and sought to clarify his remarks.
“I am appalled and aghast at the actions we have all seen of the police officers in Minneapolis,” he told MassLive. “It disgusted me to witness the video of this senseless and wrong act that deprived a man of his life, and his family of him. I believe and hope that justice will prevail and that action is being taken with criminal charges. I believe that I made this position clear in my Facebook post.”
He added, “I absolutely do not equate murder with kneeling during our anthem. Murder is a reprehensible crime. The other a form of protest. I hope this helps clarify what I believe.”
Wilk emphasized his comment was representative of his personal views of Kaepernick’s protest, not that of the department.
Hundreds of people gathered Friday across Massachusetts, as separate protests called for reforms within each city’s police department.
In Springfield, protestors called for Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood to review the department’s policies on use of force.
Springfield police regularly have officers go through de-escalation training, minimizing the need to use force and focusing on communications skills, the department told MassLive.
“What I’d like people to understand is that police officers are frustrated too when incidents like this halfway across the country happen,” said Clapprood. ” It takes away from the strides we have made in the community, but I want to assure our community that those type of tactics you saw in Minneapolis, it’s just not how we train our officers here, we emphasize on keeping body-weight off areas of the body such as the head, neck, throat and spine and we stress de-escalation minimizing the need to use force, focusing on communication skills.”
In Boston, hundreds gathered at Peter’s Park in the South End both Thursday and Friday nights.
Brock Satter, a speaker and organizer with Mass Action Against Police Brutality, connected Floyd’s death to the death of Terrence Coleman, a 31-year-old black man with a mental health disability who died after being shot by a Boston Police officer in 2016. Coleman’s mother, Hope, disputes findings from an investigation by the office of then-Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley that said Coleman moved toward authorities with a knife before he was shot by police.
“I shed tears, but it’s time for my tears to stop and I’m going to keep fighting for justice,” Hope Coleman said at the rally Friday. “I pray every day for these cops to be [held] accountable. Every single cop.”
More than a dozen Massachusetts State Police and Holyoke Police vehicles were stationed outside the Target at the Holyoke Mall at Ingleside Friday evening after threats of looting the mall circulated online. Access to the store was restricted Friday evening.
Target closed more than 70 stores in Minnesota indefinitely after a Target location across from the Minneapolis Police Department 3rd Precinct – where the four officers involved in Floyd’s death were stationed before their firing – was damaged and items were taken from the store.
“We are heartbroken by the death of George Floyd and the pain it is causing our community,” the company said in a statement. “At this time, we have made the decision to close a number of our stores until further notice. Our focus will remain on our team members’ safety and helping our community heal.”
The company is headquartered in Minneapolis.