RAR Communications, a public relations team teaching St. Louis, Mo., officers how to interact with media following Ferguson protests, may need some PR training themselves, according to the New York Daily News.
With bullet points titled “Meet the 900-Pound Gorilla” and “Feeding the Animals,” the RAR Communications workshop, titled “Officer Involved Shooting — You Can Win With the Media,” may cause more trouble than it solves.
Since the workshop titles became public, many feel that the use of the words “animal” and “gorilla” are racist.
But seminar leader Rick Rosenthal argued otherwise, “Any suggestion that these terms are new, or are in any way a specific reference to the recent tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri, or are in any way a racial slur is simply not correct,” Rosenthal recently said about the controversy.
He added that the words were simply tongue-in-cheek references to how the media handles certain stories. For example, his 1999 book on how police departments give information to media outlets is titled “Feeding the Animals.”
Still, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar apologized about the titles, saying he was unaware of the terms used until the department received calls over the RAR flyer. “Being that the flier was sent by our Police Academy, we apologize for anyone hurt by the wording of the flier,” Belmar told the Springfield News-Leader.
“We believe Mr. Rosenthal’s use of the terms ‘900-pound gorilla’ and ‘feeding the animals’ were mentioning police departments from across the nation dealing with the media and meant no racial harm.”
The PR group was reportedly hired, after a 10-day battle between local residents and police officers due to Officer Darren Wilson shooting and killing Michael Brown in August. The 18-year-old was unarmed at the time. Witness accounts claim that Brown had his hands in the air just before the fatal shots rang out.
Wilson has been on paid administrative leave since, pending further investigation.
Seemingly undeterred by the negative press from the titles, the St. Louis County and Municipal Police Academy will offer the workshop next month.