By Michael German
Brennan Center For Justice (8/27/20)
Racial disparities have long pervaded every step of the criminal justice process, from police stops, searches, arrests, shootings and other uses of force to charging decisions, wrongful convictions, and sentences. footnote1_9xgru6r1 As a result, many have concluded that a structural or institutional bias against people of color, shaped by long-standing racial, economic, and social inequities, infects the criminal justice system. footnote2_g4qgmwm2 These systemic inequities can also instill implicit biases — unconscious prejudices that favor in-groups and stigmatize out-groups — among individual law enforcement officials, influencing their day-to-day actions while interacting with the public.
Police reforms, often imposed after incidents of racist misconduct or brutality, have focused on addressing these unconscious manifestations of bias. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), for example, has required implicit bias training as part of consent decrees it imposes to root out discriminatory practices in law enforcement agencies. Such training measures are designed to help law enforcement officers recognize these unconscious biases in order to reduce their influence on police behavior.
The government’s response to known connections of law enforcement officers to violent racist and militant groups has been strikingly insufficient.
These reforms, while well-intentioned, leave unaddressed an especially harmful form of bias, which remains entrenched within law enforcement: explicit racism. Explicit racism in law enforcement takes many forms, from membership or affiliation with violent white supremacist or far-right militant groups, to engaging in racially discriminatory behavior toward the public or law enforcement colleagues, to making racist remarks and sharing them on social media. While it is widely acknowledged that racist officers subsist within police departments around the country, federal, state, and local governments are doing far too little to proactively identify them, report their behavior to prosecutors who might unwittingly rely on their testimony in criminal cases, or protect the diverse communities they are sworn to serve.
Efforts to address systemic and implicit biases in law enforcement are unlikely to be effective in reducing the racial disparities in the criminal justice system as long as explicit racism in law enforcement continues to endure. There is ample evidence to demonstrate that it does.
In 2017, the FBI reported that white supremacists posed a “persistent threat of lethal violence” that has produced more fatalities than any other category of domestic terrorists since 2000. footnote3_0xxuqlg3 Alarmingly, internal FBI policy documents have also warned agents assigned to domestic terrorism cases that the white supremacist and anti-government militia groups they investigate often have “active links” to law enforcement officials. footnote4_dudbs1t4
The harms that armed law enforcement officers affiliated with violent white supremacist and anti-government militia groups can inflict on American society could hardly be overstated. Yet despite the FBI’s acknowledgement of the links between law enforcement and these suspected terrorist groups, the Justice Department has no national strategy designed to identify white supremacist police officers or to protect the safety and civil rights of the communities they patrol.
Obviously, only a tiny percentage of law enforcement officials are likely to be active members of white supremacist groups. But one doesn’t need access to secretive intelligence gathered in FBI terrorism investigations to find evidence of overt and explicit racism within law enforcement. Since 2000, law enforcement officials with alleged connections to white supremacist groups or far-right militant activities have been exposed in Alabama, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and elsewhere. footnote5_h4116jc5 Research organizations have uncovered hundreds of federal, state, and local law enforcement officials participating in racist, nativist, and sexist social media activity, which demonstrates that overt bias is far too common. footnote6_5y5c3ra6 These officers’ racist activities are often known within their departments, but only result in disciplinary action or termination if they trigger public scandals.
Few law enforcement agencies have policies that specifically prohibit affiliating with white supremacist groups. …
What’s The Connection Between Civilian Militias And The Police?
By Grace Tatter & Meghna Chakrabarti
On Point (9/1/20)
Across the country this summer, we’ve seen vigilante militants incite violence at protests for racial justice. We talk to a former FBI agent who went undercover with right-wing militants in the 1990s about the groups’ overlap with law enforcement.
- Michael German, former FBI special agent. Fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security program, focused on law enforcement and intelligence oversight and reform. Author of a new report from the Brennan Center, “Hidden in Plain Sight.” (@rethinkintel)
- Jonathan Levinson, reporter for Oregon Public Broadcasting. Audion fellow, covering guns and America. (@_jlevinson)
- LaFleur Stephens-Dougan, professor of politics at Princeton University. Author of “Race to the Bottom.” (@LaFleurPhD)
From The Reading List:
Excerpted from a 2006 FBI Counterintelligence Report, “White Supremacist Infiltration Of Law Enforcement”
PBS NewsHour: “What legal standing do armed civilian groups at protests have?” — “This summer has seen mass protests stretch across the United States, some of them yielding vandalism and violence.”
The Guardian: “The FBI warned for years that police are cozy with the far right. Is no one listening?” — “For decades, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has routinely warned its agents that the white supremacist and far-right militant groups it investigates often have links to law enforcement. Yet the justice department has no national strategy designed to protect the communities policed by these dangerously compromised law enforcers. As our nation grapples with how to reimagine public safety in the wake of the protests following the police killing of George Floyd, it is time to confront and resolve the persistent problem of explicit racism in law enforcement.”
The Intercept: “The Thin Blue Line Between Violent, Pro-Trump Militias And Police” — “The videos that preceded Anthony Huber’s killing on the streets of Kenosha, Wisconsin, are jarring. Among the most chilling is one from the parking lot of an auto repair shop. Several shots ring out. In the distance, you see the gunman in jeans and a green T-shirt. A man rushes up behind him. The gunman turns. More shots ring out and the man collapses to the ground. The gunman circles a parked car, then comes back to the man laid out on the pavement. He looks down at him and pulls out his cellphone. ‘I just killed somebody,’ the shooter says, before jogging off. The man on the ground twitches and stares up at the sky, gasping deeply as bystanders work desperately to put pressure on his wound. Some cry, others yell for someone to call the police.”
The Atlantic: “The Violence Could Get Much Worse” — “On June 2, amid the nationwide demonstrations to protest the killing of George Floyd, officers in Philadelphia allowed men armed with bats to linger outside a police station past curfew, then looked on while members of the group beat protesters. Around the same time, authorities in Curry County, Oregon, seemed to welcome ‘local boys’ defending the community against a rumored appearance from the left-wing group antifa. A constable in Texas called on members of a far-right paramilitary organization called Oath Keepers to guard a hair salon from threats of looting and arson. A police officer in Salem, Oregon, was filmed politely asking a group of armed men to disperse ahead of curfew ‘so we don’t look like we’re playing favorites.'”