February 25, 2021

Bullies with Badges

Guest Opinion
By Amy Kerr Hardin | Jan. 23, 2021

There is a cancer of white supremacy infecting our nation’s law enforcement. Nationalist groups have an agenda of the radicalization of individuals in a position of trust. 

The Center for Strategic and International Affairs finds that right-wing violence is steeply on the rise in the United States. It’s no surprise that some cops got swept up in the movement, and now they have found a leader, albeit outgoing, that has preyed upon their racism to dangerous effect.

A heavily redacted 2006 FBI document was finally released in its entirety last September. The unredacted report finds that white supremacist groups have been actively recruiting police officers with disturbing success.

The Brennan Center for Justice reported in August that efforts to identify and root-out white nationalists from law enforcement are tepid at best. That will change after the recent coup attempt.

In 2012, four East Haven, Connecticut, officers were charged with racial profiling by setting up checkpoints to harass people of color. For sport, they routinely plagued and assaulted business owners and their customers. Under an Obama administration consent decree, a legal tool used to force better behavior, the department made great progress in cleaning up their act. Unfortunately, Trump quashed federal programs policing the police. The Justice Department’s oversight will resume with vigor under the Biden administration. 

Trump’s noxious twitter barrage of racist dog-whistles pressured law enforcement agencies to offer flaccid attempts at the investigation of hate crimes. In 2019, when a white supremacist gunned-down 23 people, mostly Hispanic, in an El Paso Walmart, the FBI agent assigned to the case described his efforts as “hamstrung” in service of placating Trump’s rabid base.

Discrimination is endemic among cop culture. The U.S. Capitol Police have been sued hundreds of times by black officers over racial discrimination. White officers who are friendly with black colleagues are hazed for their humanity. White Capitol police routinely plagued and pulled over their black co-workers. Ironically, the hero of the recent Trump insurrection is a black officer who saved the Senate through clever police work. 

Social media posts and FBI hotlines are helping to identify and arrest a disturbing number of off-duty bad cops from departments across the nation who participated in the Capitol riot. They were so emboldened that they freely committed sedition in plain sight. They took selfies and bragged about their illegal exploits for all to see.

We saw.

Now many of these bad actors are losing their badges and facing charges that, depending on where they live, could possibly preclude them from owning firearms and voting or face prison. Doubtful it was worth it.

Found among the multiple off-duty seditious cops who ransacked our nation’s seat of democracy was one from the Houston Police, who has since lost his job. His police chief acknowledged First Amendment rights, but explained: “engaging in activity that crosses the line into criminal conduct will not be tolerated.”

Nevertheless, the damage is done for the rest of us. Faith and trust in law enforcement is flagging. Radical-right cops are putting their brethren in danger. Good officers are potentially unsafe in the commission of their sworn duties.

In a pathetic attempt to defend the indefensible, the president of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police, John Catanzara, who represents 12,000 officers, initially defended the ransacking of the Capitol. He whined that these insurrectionists were merely venting their frustration over mostly peaceful BLM protests last summer. Then, backpedaling like a Russian circus bear, the union leader recanted his position, saying he regrets the “negative attention” his statement has attracted. Sure.

President Biden was quick to condemn the double standard in the law enforcement response to white riots over black protests — the latter being mostly peaceful and based in reality. As Biden said, “No one can tell me that if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protestors, they wouldn’t have been treated very, very differently than the mob of thugs that stormed the Capitol. We all know that’s true. And it is unacceptable. The American people saw it in plain view, and I hope it sensitizes them to what they have to do.”

The U.S. Crisis Monitor studied data from over 13,000 recent protests to discover that police are three times more likely to employ force against left-wing demonstrations over white nationalist revolts, even when the actions were peaceful. 

The New York Attorney General just filed a lawsuit against the NYPD over “a pattern of using excessive force and making false arrests against New Yorkers during Protests.” She was referring to BLM rallies.

There’s so much more we can do.

A good start in restoring trust in America’s law enforcement institutions would be for Congress to modify “qualified immunity.” That’s a legal concept that crooked cops and their departments hide behind when they exceed the boundaries of their jobs, i.e., commit crimes. If it wasn’t for videos and body cams, the public would never know of their misdeeds.

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Hatewatch” column decried the excessive force used at BLM protests. Hatewatch reports “disturbingly aggressive arrests” and the use of munitions against primarily peaceful crowds. They blame our nation’s “hyper-militarized culture” for equipping police departments, large and small, with used military equipment. Give a cop battle gear and armored vehicles, and the temptation to use them is too great.

The old maxim holds true: When all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. 

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