Who protects us from the police?

by Tiger Sun May 10, 2018

“You know 30 years ago we were skinheads. We wore swastikas and shaved heads, and you could identify us pretty easily. So we decided at that time to grow our hair out, to trade in our boots for suits and we encouraged people to get jobs in law enforcement, to go to the military and get training and to recruit there.” – Christian Picciolini, former white supremacist.

This interview was shocking for me, but very well may not have been for the many people directly affected by racial profiling and police brutality. The fact that the very people that we trust to protect us, both domestically and abroad, want to harm us should alarm everyone.

My point is definitely not that all military or law enforcement branches are filled to the brim with malicious Neo-Nazis or white supremacists – however, in light of recent events concerning the police and people of color,  the existence of these racist forces in these branches should cause us to step back and reflect on the state of policing and justice in our country. White supremacy in law enforcement is not the only problem we currently have with justice and policing – however, it is a reason for us as a society to analyze law enforcement and the justice system in general, especially as white supremacy amplifies and is amplified by those justice-related issues.

We can see through emails that there is a racial problem in some police departments. After Michael Brown was fatally shot in Ferguson, racist emails were discovered by the Justice Department and members of the force were fired. Just recently, the second-ranking police official of the LAPD, Tom Angel, was fired after forwarding 15 total pages of racist jokes to his colleagues. Even more recently, an assistant police chief literally urged recruits that if they caught kids smoking, to “shoot if black.” It’s not too hard to believe that white supremacist infiltration exists, even if it may not happen often, especially since there is already a problem with race in some police departments. Again, the majority of police departments may not have this sort of problem with race, especially to this degree. However, the existence of these emails is a red flag. These also were just cases that were found – it is quite possible that there are many departments with undiscovered emails of similar messages.

Even the FBI recognizes this is a problem, they’ve recognized the term “ghost skin” to describe white supremacists who stay under wraps and join law enforcement. These ghost skins are in essence inside men – they alert their group of potential investigations. The military had had similar issues with white supremacists found within the ranks, where around a quarter of the troops personally experienced white nationalism (which signals a problem not limited to just a few bad apples, and even if it were limited, it would be a powerful few bad apples), and accordingly, the Department of Defense enacted stricter screenings to filter out those affiliated with white supremacist movements.

A recent leaked message board from a white supremacist forum confirms the alarming statement from the interview. User “Erwin Frey” stated “Be me in my Criminal investigation class. We’re doing introductions and it gets to me. They ask me what kind of police officer I wanted to be and I responded with ‘Riot Police Officer’. They asked why and I instantly responded with ‘I like curb stomping protesters who cause a riot.’ I think the professor likes me.” Another user, “Stannisthemannis” wrote“be nice to cops and they will be nice to you” while also declaring “Most white cops are sympathetic to us” and “I’m not too worried about the cops as long as we act like whites …. Get to know more cops [in real life] No one hates ***gers more than white cops.” True or not, the fact that the white supremacists are so comfortable with and emboldened by the idea that the police are undoubtedly on their side should be a major red flag for public safety.

It’s not like these claims of white supremacists infiltrating law enforcement are without precedent. The notorious Lynwood Vikings of the Los Angeles Police Department terrorized black and Hispanic men in the area for years. The judge in the case filed against the so-called Vikings called the group a “neo-nazi, white supremacist gang” whose existence was knowingly condoned by the LAPD in his opinion statement. There have been many similar cases.

A horrific early example is John Burge and his “Midnight Crew” who brutally tortured hundreds of black men in Chicago to force confessions. A powerful quote from Darrell Cannon, a victim wrongly convicted of murder, stated “The new-wave Klan wore badges instead of sheets.” In 2000, Neo-Nazi graffiti including swastikas were found in the Cleveland police department’s inner quarters, and officers were also seen wearing white power lapels. Recently, FBI has also found police officers who were active members of the KKK in states such as Florida, Texas and Louisiana. It’s unbelievable that this is still happening.

Police brutality and racial tension only emphasize the point that something is severely wrong with the current state of law enforcement. Many people of color were shot to death by police “who feared for their life” on every occasion.  Stephon Clark. Philando Castile. Diante Yarber. Anthony Lamar Smith. Walter Scott. Terence Crutcher. Alton Sterling. Eric Garner. Freddie Gray. Saheed Vassell. John Crawford II. Kathryn Johnston. Keith Lamont Scott. William Chapman. Tamir Rice. Among many others. There’s no denying the fact that many of these senseless killings were racially charged, and those that weren’t were a gross overreach of the law anyway. Shot at thirty times in a Walmart parking lot. Shot in his own backyard while on his phone. Shot in a car with his girlfriend and child. Shot for reading a book. Shot for selling CDs. Choked to death for selling cigarettes. Shot for holding a gun at a store. Shot in a parking lot by an officer who had previously posted Nazi photos online. These killings may have more so been the result of racial biases – the officers may not have been white supremacists – but the issue here is the possibility that they were. There are good officers; however, as bad officers filter in, more of these reprehensible fatal events will happen and there will be even less trust between the public and law enforcement.

Police departments will tell us that there was “no other choice” or that the victim “had a gun,” which may have been true in some cases, but at this point, it can be difficult to fully trust them, especially when hate group leaders are claiming to funnel their followers through law enforcement. Police unions have long been known to block policy that tries to create more civilian oversight of law enforcement, and also to actively seek to help abusive cops get their jobs back. Knowing these facts makes it very difficult to trust what those police departments tell us.

This isn’t to say that police can’t be trusted. There’s a lot of nuance – police officers are generally great people who put their life on the line to help the public. As citizens, we call on the police to help us. The majority of police officers aren’t racists. In some of the violent cases above, the police officer may have genuinely thought the victim was armed. However, racial biases at the subconscious level may also have influenced the actions of the offending officer. Studies have shown that police officers are more likely to shoot at the black characters in training games than white players on instinct. To help these good cops avoid these situations, increased training and awareness can reduce the chance of such a tragic outcome.

Additionally, the only people who can police the police are the police themselves and the justice systems. However, even then, we may not be able to trust the police to police themselves, and the judicial system has been a total flop. Stephon Clark’s DA, Anne Marie Schubert, has a long past of letting police officers who harm people of color walk free, such as in the case of Joseph Mann, a mentally disabled man shot by police (the policeman was fired by the police force for using too much deadly force).

After Charlottesville, any rational person would expect that the neo-Nazis who terrorized the town that day would be the first to be charged. That black men, such as Donald Blakney and Corey Long, who were only defending themselves when police would not, were prosecuted and charged by the commonwealth attorney is appalling. According to anti-racist activist Kendall Bills, the police did nothing as a grown man assaulted her right in front of them. The police, who are supposed to serve and protect, did nothing as assault-gun wielding fanatics pointed guns towards crowds of innocent protesters. To be passive is to be complicit – the current system stands “not on the side of the attacked, but on the side of the attacker,” Bills points out.

There are plenty of other examples of ineptitude and disgrace in the justice system. Louisiana police raided Kevin Smith’s “alleged address,” and conveniently found bags of cocaine, even though Smith didn’t even live at this address. Then, they proceeded to lock up Smith, with the help of the so-called justice system, for eight years without even convicting him of a crime. This is the moment when there should be outrage – as much outrage as gun owners have when they think their right to a well regulated militia is being infringed upon (ironic emphasis on “well-regulated”), since this man’s right to a speedy trial was very clearly violated, right? Wrong. The justice system found some bogus reason to throw him back in a for-profit prison (if you want to read more about my stance on for-profit prisons, check out my article) since they didn’t have any evidence of the cocaine charge, and he’s stuck in prison until 2022, still without a conviction. Absolutely ridiculous. And the worst part is, this would have been all swept under the rug had activist Shaun King not discovered this lapse in the justice system.

What’s worse is that there are probably countless examples of white supremacy in police departments that have never reached the public eye. How many cases were just swept under the rug? How many victims haven’t had their voices heard?  If even white supremacists leaders are saying we should look into law enforcement, then why aren’t we? Why isn’t this a bigger story? This something everything should know about – the public needs to be on the lookout to make sure instances of racism in both law enforcement and the justice system don’t go unnoticed.

We need policy that will protect all of us, including the good, honorable police officers and military personnel who are negatively affected by the actions of the bad.

Tiger Sun May 10, 2018, “Who protects us from the police?”, https://www.stanforddaily.com/2018/05/10/who-protects-us-from-the-police/

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