It’s a conundrum.
Any civilized society operates by creating and enforcing rules. Social tranquility depends upon choosing wise people to make the rules and fair-minded people to enforce them.Right now, America isn’t doing too well with either of those populations.
This blog spends an inordinate amount of time on the clown show that is the U.S. House of Representatives, but problems with enforcement–with policing–are equally thorny.
From the beating of Rodney King to the murder of George Floyd and the multitude of other unwarranted violent episodes, Americans have been inundated with video evidence of questionable police behavior.
And “questionable” is frequently the correct word. As public safety professionals will tell us, protecting the public often requires split-second decision-making in situations that are a lot more ambiguous than they appear after the fact. Given the difficulties they face, giving police the benefit of reasonable doubt is only fair.
But all doubt isn’t reasonable.
Reporters keep uncovering deeply disturbing evidence of a racist, anti-Semitic and thuggish culture that persists in a troubling number of police departments. A year or so ago, one such culture was exposed in Torrance ,California . Text messages that had circulated among current and former officers of the city’s Police Department “reveal a culture rife with racism, antisemitism, and homophobia going back at least a decade.”
The texts are extremely violent in nature and grotesquely racist, homophobic, and antisemitic.
According to reporting from the LA Times, one text shows a picture of a candy cane, a Christmas tree ornament, a star for the top of the tree, and an “enslaved person.”
“Which one doesn’t belong?” the caption asks.
“You don’t hang the star,” someone replies.
Another message reads “hanging with the homies,” attached was a photo of several Black men who had been lynched.
Another photo asks what someone would do if their girlfriend was having an affair with a Black man. The captioned response was to break “a tail light on his car so the police will stop him and shoot him.”
Prosecutors say the messages go back years and could jeopardize hundreds of criminal cases in which the officers either testified or made arrests.
The LA Times identified 13 current and former police officers and one Long Beach cop who are now under investigation. At least nine of the officers texted images or commentary advocating violence against Black people and LGBTQ community members and ridiculing racial profiling.
There was much more, and all horrific. Discovery of the texts was triggered by an investigation of two former Torrance police officers who had spray-painted a swastika inside a resident’s car.
If Torrance was an isolated instance, it would be troubling enough, but in the last few years, we’ve seen repeated evidence that these White Supremacy attitudes are widespread among both the police and the military.
As the linked article by an FBI agent now with the Brennan Center warns:
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.
I know about these routine warnings because I received them as a young FBI agent preparing to accept an undercover assignment against neo-Nazi groups in Los Angeles, California, in 1992. But you don’t have to take my word for it. A redacted version of a 2006 FBI intelligence assessment, White Supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement, alerted agents to “both strategic infiltration by organized groups and self-initiated infiltration by law enforcement personnel sympathetic to white supremacist causes.”
As the officer who wrote the above article pointed out, If the U.S. government found out that al-Qaida or a similar foreign terrorist organization had infiltrated American law enforcement, it would immediately launch a nationwide effort to identify those individuals and neutralize the threat.
Yet white supremacists and far-right militants have committed far more attacks and killed more people in the U.S. over the last 10 years than any foreign terrorist movement. The FBI regards them as the most lethal domestic terror threat. The need for national action is even more critical.
We the People need the police. But we need the right kind of police. That requires hiring practices capable of weeding out thuggish, bigoted applicants, and training that emphasizes service to all parts of the communities they will be hired to protect.
We have a problem, and public safety requires that we fix it.