HOUSTON – On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on “Law Enforcement Officer Safety: Protecting Those Who Protect and Serve,” which was requested by the ranking Republican Senator from Iowa, Chuck Grassley. The panel focused an inordinate amount of attention on civil rights organizations fighting for racial justice. Senator Thom Tillis equated the Black-led movements with the uptick in police deaths at the hands of civilians.
“This radical concept of defunding the police has gone from the Radical Left, a minority of the party, to something that the primary fundraising engine for liberal progressives is now touting,” said Tillis in a statement. “This is a cancer, and we have to understand that we have to do work … but for us to be dismissive about this not being a problem, I ask you, or anybody else here in law enforcement: do you consider your colleagues bastards?”
While it’s expected to hear suggested false narratives like this from Republicans, police unions, and various groups promoting skewed and over-the-top claims, it surprised many when Democrats failed to clap back adequately. In an all-out effort to distance themselves from the “Defund the Police” slogan, Democrats tended to echo their Republican counterparts.
“There are some on the other side who falsely accuse Democrats of wanting to defund the police,” said Dick Durban in his opening statement. “The record is clear. We are funding the police, and we should. But our work cannot end there. We cannot ignore the dominant role of guns in assaults and killings of police officers.”
Democrats largely focused on funding the police and validating their concerns about the proliferation of weapons of war on our streets. However, Republicans and police officers continued their attack against racial justice advocacy by suggesting that the movement is responsible for police officers being killed in the line of duty.
The standard tactic used in the pro-cop/anti-cop culture war created by Republicans that echo conservative extremists was applied at the hearing. The president and executive officer of the National Fallen Officer Foundation, Sgt. Demetrick Pennie anecdotally argued that there are coordinated efforts to undermine the police and they are directly responsible for a rise in attacks on law enforcement.
“As calls to defund the police got louder, more police officers died,” said Pennie.
Police Are Killing With Impunity
There’s no question violent crime has spiked since the coronavirus ravaged the nation and the majority of the country suddenly found themselves in dire financial situations. Child hunger, poverty, homelessness, and inflation are creating tensions that strain individual households and entire communities alike. Whether in the inner cities, the suburbs, or rural America, costs for housing and food alone are setting the most vulnerable citizens back decades.
As per usual, the poor and middle class bear the brunt of economic downturns. Yet, none of what is happening all over the country justifies state-sanctioned brutality and murder. Many conservatives blame the rise in violent crime for the escalation in police violence. But it’s a disingenuous argument that fails to acknowledge the complexities of those crimes and how they impact every community.
One thing is certain, it isn’t because of criminal justice reform in Democrat-run cities. Murders rose in cities run by Republicans too. According to the Brennan Center, murders rose 30 percent in the largest cities, 20 percent in suburban areas, and jumped by similar numbers in rural areas. To suggest the violent crime wave is an “inner-city” problem is not just dishonest but speaks to the type of anti-Black rhetoric in mainstream conversations about police.
Times are tense for cops only because their leaders like to propagandize and decontextualize statistics to manipulate them creating an environment of fear. The extremist and anti-Black content posted in social media circles – such as Blue Lives Matter/Thin Blue Line groups – echo much of what is being discussed and spread in police departments across the country.
Police officers are constantly being exposed to extremist and racist ideas largely due to the infiltration of police by white supremacist gangs. This results in the discriminatory practice of de-escalation when victims are white and outright murder when victims are Black or Latino. It’s bolstered by the culture created from the very beginning – during training – immediately creating an “us versus them” mentality. A gang-like cover-up culture is born.
Some of the issues discussed since 2020 may seem benign to many. The reality is that those problems speak to the root of the crisis. The law-enforcement apparatus has a tendency to breed hate in an isolated environment where propaganda is taken as fact. And despite citizens continuously exposing police officers’ racism online, the growth of hate in policing has only been allowed to fester and grow like cancer in the system.
None of this was mentioned in the Senate hearing.
The Growth of Hate in Policing
A recent report from Reuters concentrated on police trainers with direct ties to the far-right and push hateful rhetoric. Their focus on Richard Whitehead, a well-known figure in police training circles, is an example of people who train police who are often believers in ideas of a civil war brewing on U.S. streets. Whitehead has trained nearly 600 officers according to Reuters.
“Two of the trainers have falsely asserted that prominent Democrats including President Joe Biden are pedophiles, a core tenet of the QAnon conspiracy theory,” said Reuters of the five trainers in their report. “Four have endorsed or posted records of their past interactions with far-right extremist figures, including prominent “constitutional sheriff” leader David Clarke Jr. and Proud Boys leader Joe Biggs, who is being prosecuted for his involvement in the Capitol riots.”
A report from the Auditor of the State of California regarding police officers and hate group affiliations found that of five departments audited throughout the state, officers at each department engaged in discriminatory conduct. While the report indicates that they found no officers who were members of hate groups, they did find support for extremist groups.
“Some officers at each department we reviewed—CDCR, Los Angeles Sheriff, San Bernardino Police, San José Police, and Stockton Police—engaged in biased conduct either in their on-duty interactions with individuals or online through their social media posts.,” read the report. “We identified some officers’ biased conduct through complaints that the departments had received from members of the public and other officers.”
The Minnesota Department of Human Rights also released a report earlier this year that found the Minneapolis Police Department engages in racist and discriminatory practices. The report showed how officers disproportionately “use force, stop, search, arrest, and cite people of color, particularly Black individuals, compared to white individuals in similar circumstances.“
“After completing a comprehensive investigation, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights finds there is probable cause that the City and MPD engage in a pattern or practice of race discrimination in violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act,” reads the report. “The lack of collective and sustained action among City and MPD leaders has, in effect, allowed this organizational culture to fester within MPD and resulted in unlawful policing practices that undermine public safety,” the report continued.
These studies are clear examples of racially biased policing. The problem, however, is much more widespread.
More Money, Unchecked Power
At the Senate hearing, police and conservative politicians alike claimed the rise in anti-police rhetoric began after the 2014 murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. They effectively claimed that Black Lives Matter is directly responsible for police being killed at higher rates despite white people killing cops more often than any other race.
They didn’t discuss how an entire police department quit when a Black city manager was hired in Kenley, North Carolina. The problematic training practices by trainers in the law enforcement industry weren’t mentioned. Spikes in police misconduct, brutality, and murder across the country weren’t noted. The one-sided hearing left much to be desired when it comes to policing and holding law enforcement accountable for their actions.
The solution for Democrats seems to lie in providing tens of billions of dollars in federal funds for local police without any accountability measures. While they may have mentioned that certain processes and how police conduct themselves may be in need of reform during Tuesday’s hearing, all they’re doing is talking about it while giving law enforcement unprecedented sums of money.
The United States is on pace to see over 1100 deaths at the hands of police. Meanwhile, police deaths at the hands of civilians are settling back down from last year’s increase. The Senate hearing resulted in many bills being proposed to address police deaths by both sides. However, none of those “solutions” tackle reforms. At the moment, it seems Democrats may have already gone as far as they’re willing to go with racial justice initiatives regarding policing.
Efforts by Democrats to appeal to the political right in the upcoming midterm election make it unlikely the country will see any more movement around criminal justice reform. Police continue to get their way and be heard while promoting attacks on them more than anyone else. And until someone puts their foot down, the growing bigotry behind their words isn’t going to stop. The continued militarization and expansion of the police state in the U.S. is bordering on autocracy.
Meanwhile, far-right extremism is tightening its grip.