Brandon Hanks: After being chastised over a February Facebook post featuring music with “profane” lyrics, a Black Syracuse, New York, police officer filed a notice of claim against the Syracuse Police Department last month, believing the department is retaliating against him. The rebuke came only days after he submitted a petition stating he was being barred from joining the gang violence task force in late June.
Brandon Hanks gained national fame in 2019 for his “Pull Up Challenge” videos, which saw him engaging in basketball games against neighborhood youngsters while dressed in full police uniform. He promised to purchase the kids new shoes if they won, but if Hanks won, the kids had to do pushups. After watching a segment on CBS evening news about Hanks’ challenge, NBA star Rajon Rando contributed 25 pairs of sneakers. For his efforts with local children, Hanks was also given the Mayor’s Achievement Award.
The Gun Violence Suppression Detail has only one Black officer, Hanks. Hank’s boss, Lt. Patti, suggested that he be reassigned to the gang unit — where there are currently no Black officers on the task force — “because of his outstanding level of performance,” according to a notice of claim filed last month.
Seven white officers, including department chief Capt. Timothy Gay, “took extraordinary steps to deny Mr. Hanks of his promotion” after learning of the recommendation, according to the allegation. According to The Daily Beast, this includes “a secret inquiry into Mr. Hanks’ life and the publication of a memorandum in which they have manufactured a false persona of Mr. Hanks with the purpose of damaging his career.”
Gay and other officers claimed in an April internal memo that Hanks had “known associations with gang members and convicted criminals.” Gay also claimed that Hanks had a tattoo that matched that of known gang members and that he’d seen social media posts showing Hanks talking to gang members about “police-related topics.”
Hanks said in a lawsuit that the charges are “racist and untrue” attempts to derail his career. He now says that the department is punishing him for filing the claim.
Hanks was punished on July 1 for violating social media restrictions. Hanks received the warning in reaction to a February Facebook post in which he wore his uniform while listening to music that included “racial language,” including the N-word. The censure also included two more tweets from 2020 that contained “profane” lyrics in the captions.
Following the reprimand, Hanks amended his complaint, calling it “blatant retaliation” and complaining of a “blatantly racist culture within the Syracuse Police Department.”
Chief Kenton Buckner is named in the action, which seeks $33 million in damages as well as improvements to the department.
The music playing in the post wasn’t coming from Hanks’ automobile, according to Jesse Ryder, Hanks’ attorney. Hanks was in his private vehicle at the time, according to descriptions of the footage, which is no longer on his Facebook page.
Buckner told The Daily Beast that the punishment was based on the “content of the song lyrics” and the “racist slurs,” and that it had been decided before the department got the initial notice of claim.
“We’re confident in the decision we made and why we made that decision,” he said, adding that when considering promotions, it’s common to look through social media.
“I do know Officer Hanks, and I’ve seen his work in the community,” Mayor Ben Walsh stated in June, after Hanks filed a complaint. He’s been a fantastic ambassador for the Department among our youth, and I was thrilled to give him with my Mayor’s Achievement Award late last year. The charges are troubling and difficult to comprehend. Chief Buckner and I are both committed to making the SPD a fair and equitable department for its officers and the public. That is what we strive for on a daily basis.”
On Friday, July 16, Hanks’ mother, Michele Vanfossen, coordinated a march of roughly 50 people in support of her son. In response to Hanks’ allegation against the department, members of numerous important groups, including Last Chance for Change and Rebirth and Mothers Against Gun Violence, chanted “We got your back.”
The gathering marched by the Syracuse Police Department’s headquarters in the hopes that their concerns would be heard.
“This is something I never expected to happen. “I thought they’d appreciate the idea that people listen to him and ride for him,” Vanfossen added.