House panel examines white supremacy in law enforcement
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House panel examines white supremacy in law enforcement

A US House of Representatives subcommittee held a hearing Tuesday to examine the infiltration of law enforcement by white supremacist groups. Representatives from law enforcement, academics and activists gave testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s Civil Rights and Civil Liberties subcommittee in a recorded two-hour remote hearing.

Prior to the hearing, subcommittee chairman Jamie Raskin released a 2006 FBI threat assessment report that highlighted the extent of white supremacist officers within police departments across the country and the effect of their presence in fostering an environment of pervasive racism. The FBI had only released a highly redacted version of the report. Raskin explained his decision to release the unredacted report as remedying “a serious dereliction of duty” from the FBI.

Michael German, a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice and a former FBI agent, testified at the hearing. In his written statement, he drew attention to examples in just the last few months of “law enforcement officers across the country flaunting their affiliation with far-right militant groups” such as the Three Percenters, the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys.

Vida Johnson, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, gave testimony about her 2019 law review article, “KKK in the PD: White Supremacist Police and What To Do About It,” in which she compiled “178 instances of explicit racial bias by the members of the police in 48 states,” which she called “just the tip of the iceberg.”

Johnson and German’s testimony, like the 2006 FBI report, described a spectrum of white supremacist affiliation within law enforcement agencies.

In some cases, officers were avowed members of hate groups, acting with a deliberate intention of infiltrating the federal government to increase their organizations’ ability to commit violence without repercussion. The FBI report included examples of a police officer who made threats against Black school children and a Black city council member and a correctional officer who assisted a white supremacist prison gang with drug distribution and assaults.

Other officers did not have direct ties to white supremacist hate groups but expressed sympathy with white supremacist ideology. As German wrote, “Research organizations have uncovered hundreds of federal state and local law enforcement officials participating in racist nativist and sexist social media activity, which demonstrates the overt bias in the ranks as far too common.”

German pointed out that the Supreme Court rulings in Brady v. Maryland and Giglio v. United States established that prosecutors are under a requirement to provide exculpatory evidence to criminal defendants, including evidence that might impeach a government witness. German recommended that officers who have condoned racist behavior should be added to Brady lists since their racism could reasonably be expected to impeach their testimony.

Both German and Johnson called for police departments to perform better background checks, follow zero-tolerance policies for hate group membership, and institute better whistleblower procedures and protections. They also called for the Department of Justice to gather more data on white supremacists within local law enforcement and to strategically bring prosecutions to weed out officers with white supremacist affiliations.

Subcommittee Chairman Raskin and Chairwoman Maloney called for the passage of the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act, “to rid law enforcement communities of officers who have white supremacist affiliations or subscribe to white supremacists beliefs.”