RACIAL JUSTICE CAN ONLY BEGIN WHEN POLICE DEPARTMENTS REFLECT THE COMMUNITIES THEY SERVE
By Sunita Sohrabji
Crime in the U.S. peaked in the early 1990s, but has fallen 51 percent from 1993 to 2018, notwithstanding a couple of years with spikes in violent crime, according to FBI data. Property crime has also dropped by 54 percent in the past 25 years.
But low-income urban cities, overwhelmingly populated by Black and Latinx residents, continue to be over-policed, largely by white males, many with known affiliations to white supremacist organizations. 83 percent of police officers are white males.
A summer of protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement — after the death of Minnesota resident George Floyd who was killed by former police officer Derek Chauvin — has heightened public scrutiny on local law enforcement. The nation has been deeply divided by the choice of supporting either “law and order,” with armed militia inserting its might into peaceful protests, or de-funding the police, which President Donald Trump and others have equated with giving rise to anarchy.
Former FBI agent Michael German, author of the report “Hidden in Plain Sight: Racism, White Supremacy, and Far-Right Militancy in Law Enforcement” released by the Brennan Center for Justice Aug. 27, said ample evidence exists of police officers being affiliated with white supremacist groups.
Moreover, research organizations have uncovered hundreds of federal, state, and local law enforcement officials participating in overt bias, via racist and sexist social media activity, he said at the briefing, organized by Ethnic Media Services. Officers rarely face repercussions for such activity, claiming they are protected by the First Amendment.
“The FBI believes this is a significant problem, and yet there is still no national strategy around far-right violence and white supremacy in the United States,” said German. He said the problem was poorly understood because the federal government de-prioritizes such work, and state and local governments are unlikely to pick up the slack.
Raj Jayadev, the co-founder of Silicon Valley De-Bug, which pioneered the concept of participatory defense in criminal justice proceedings, gave the example of San Jose, California police officer Philip White, who was fired in 2015 for tweeting a series of racially-charged messages. White targeted the Black Lives Matter movement, which was protesting the death of New York resident Eric Garner, who died in 2014 while being placed in a choke-hold by former police officer Daniel Pantaleo. “I can’t breathe,” said Garner as he fell unconscious.
White tweeted out: “By the way if anyone feels they can’t breathe or their lives matter, I’ll be at the movies tonight, off duty, carrying my gun.” He was initially fired, but in 2016, following arbitration, White got his job back and is still on the force.
“The culture of policing is so steeped in racist practices. I don’t know how you change that,” said Jayadev, adding that the culture of policing is laced with white supremacy to the point where officers like White are not outliers, but instead accepted by their peers. “Oh that’s just Phillip: he does things like that,” said