Police resist efforts to weed out white supremacy, citing free speech
White supremacist violence and extremism have been identified as a national threat, but some police groups and politicians are blocking legislation that would keep extremists out of law enforcement.
Legislatures in California, Minnesota, Oregon, Tennessee, and Washington, D.C. are leading efforts to prevent extremists from entering law enforcement agencies. The proposals have various strategies with some focusing on screening and social media vetting, and others on terminations or prohibiting officer affiliations with hate groups.
The efforts follow a year of incessant viral stories of reckless police killings of Black and Brown people and global protests against racial injustice, which have only further exposed the centuries-long issue of police brutality in the U.S.
The white extremists-led siege on the U.S. Capitol in January also underscored the need for closer inspection into applicants and recruits. Members of the extremist groups, the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, participated in the Capitol attack.
“When Jan. 6 happened, it gave an even more visceral sense as to why this kind of legislation was necessary,” Ash Kalra, a Democratic member of the California Assembly, told the New York Times. “This has been a long-term problem that really has not been directly addressed by law enforcement agencies.”
Assembly Bill 655, the California bill put forth by Kalra, would bar members of hate groups from becoming police officers. Still, critics of the legislation, such as the Peace Officers Research Association of California, initially said the line between free speech and extremist hate was too blurred and could also block those opposed to same-sex marriage and abortion.
In February, Democratic Minnesota Rep. Cedrick Frazier introduced similar legislation to bar officers who support white supremacists, groups, causes, or ideologies. Republican colleagues like Rep. Eric Lucero argued that those with strong religious beliefs would be affected by the policy.
Back in February, Frazier vocalized his disappointment with the seven votes against the proposal on Twitter.
“Today I presented HF 593 which would prohibit Minnesota police officers from affiliating with, supporting, or advocating for white supremacist groups, causes, or ideologies.
Pretty noncontroversial, right?
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has long identified white domestic terrorism as a threat to national security. A 2006 study titled White Supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement uncovered “both strategic infiltration by organized groups and self-initiated infiltration by law enforcement personnel sympathetic to white supremacist causes” in American police departments.
That, paired with Attorney General Merrick Garland’s and Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas‘ confirmation that racially-motivated violent extremist, specifically white supremacist, was the greatest threat facing the country, highlights the urgent need for a change in police vetting.
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