A Massachusetts police officer could face disciplinary action after a controversial post on Facebook was seen to incite violence against Muslims, local media outlets reported Wednesday. Police are investigating whether Officer Jason Montalbano, a long-time member of the force, violated department policy by sharing an image of a mushroom cloud along with a reference to Islam.
“JAPAN HAS BEEN AT PEACE WITH THE USA SINCE SEPTEMBER 2, 1945,” text above the image said, referencing the date when Japan surrendered to the U.S. after atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “IT’S TIME WE MADE PEACE WITH ISLAM.”
Montalbano publicly apologized Wednesday, saying he understood why the meme sparked controversy.
“My intention posting it on my private Facebook page was to support and address a military action against the ISIS terrorist threat,” Montalbano said Wednesday during press conference. “In retrospect, I understand the reference to Islam was inappropriately overbroad and offensive to Muslims.”
— John Atwater (@AtwaterWCVB) March 16, 2016
The graphic first appeared on the Facebook page of retired U.S. Marine Steve Reichert, who is also a member of the National Rifle Association’s Board of Directors, Wicked Local Medford reported. Montalbano’s post is now under review to determine whether it constituted “conduct unbecoming of a police officer,” Police Chief Leo Sacco Jr. told the newspaper.
Mayor Stephanie Burke said police needed to be held to a higher standard on social media.
“You can’t be a neutral officer on the street if you have these ideas about a certain group of people,” she said. “So, it’s not acceptable.”
The Washington D.C.-based Council on American Islamic Relations, the country’s largest Muslim civil rights group, expressed concern over the message. Yusufi Vali, executive director of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, said the presidential election cycle seemed to be fueling anti-Muslim sentiment.
“I’m hearing a lot more of that kind of stuff from community members than at other times, and unfortunately, I think a lot of it has to do with the political season,” Vali told WCVB. “I think it’s really critical not to judge the police department by what one or a few people do, in the same way Islam or Muslims should not be judged by what a very small group of minorities do.”