Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas elevated the Office for State and Local Law Enforcement (OSLLE) to the office of the DHS Secretary in an announcement on July 31. This grants the OSLLE direct access to DHS allowing them to report to Secretary Mayorkas in an effort to enhance the work it does with state and local law enforcement in executing the Department’s “public safety mission”.
“As the largest law enforcement organization in the federal government, it is critical that the interests of our partners at the state and local level are woven into the fabric of our Department,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas in a statement. “The elevation of the Office for State and Local Law Enforcement, now reporting directly to the Secretary, will better ensure we, and our partners, are advancing our public safety mission.”
On the surface, there are justifications for this that appear harmless to the average civilian. However, looking deeper using the history of how policy is implemented in the United States points to more concerning issues. How these policies and processes are applied has a long and sordid legacy. But racism in policing is as institutional as it is today precisely because of the indirect and oftentimes direct connections to federal offices, including the White House.
With organizations such as police unions – known for their aggressive and often racist policing motivations – already having access to OSLLE and DHS, this helps facilitate that connection. While the elevation of the OSLLE is meant to streamline many different things that are presumed “good” for U.S. law enforcement, we can’t overlook the negative impacts policies like this have against civilians.
If you know your history, then you know about the federal government infiltrating the civil rights movements of the past – something they still do today. More recently, you also know of not just federal agents infiltrating movements and protests, but members of hate groups do it too. A massive portion of the violence that occurred during the Black Lives Matter protests came at the hands of anti-Black right-wing extremists. Even federal agents were killed by far-right extremists trying to foment ethnic/racial wars in the United States.
Meanwhile, racists now use Black Lives Matter as a dog whistle to call out the violence during the George Floyd protests. Only they’re not demonizing the white supremacists behind the violence. Instead, they’re demonizing Black people as the culprits behind all the violence that resulted in more than 14,000 people arrested on felony charges. The vast majority of them were either Black or people of color. But the hate groups? Just a few members here and there.
No big deal. Right?
Wrong. From the Civil Rights Movement to the modern era, local law enforcement has been providing racially motivated intelligence to the federal government. Back in the day, it was to J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. Now, it’s to a much larger and deeply intertwined intelligence apparatus that was put in place after the September 11 attacks. The broad scope of DHS’ mission and the embedded nature of its integration into local law enforcement came about with the Patriot Act.
Particularly when it comes to surveilling people without proper authorization.
Granting local law enforcement access to surveillance technologies has been particularly detrimental to Indigenous, Black, and Latino communities. In Breonna Taylor’s case – just one of many cases showing how dangerous these tools are in the wrong hands – you can see how surveillance data was used resulting in her murder by police who ultimately got away with it.
After the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, the whole country witnessed how easily local, state and federal law enforcement employed facial recognition technologies, cell phone data, social media, and even online purchases to find the insurrectionists involved in an attempted coup on the United States. Most overlook it because it’s being used to capture what would be defined as terrorists in any other country. It’s been presumed to be a good thing. But it’s not.
That same technology is used by racists and bigots with social power and connections in the law enforcement sector and by cops themselves. It has been used for personal reasons like tracking a suspected cheating spouse and who they’re with. By abusers in law enforcement, whether sexual or domestic, to track their victims. And it was even used in Ferguson and many other cities to label civil rights activists as “extremists” while allowing white anti-government militias and hate groups to roam freely on our streets and espouse their views with free will.
When you hear people talk about demilitarizing the police, this is a huge part of it. Your local police’s ability to peer within the walls of your home; listen to and collect your cell phone data; purchase your data from companies like Amazon; and lie to judges to obtain warrants to invade your home should alarm every civilian. This goes beyond, “I don’t do anything wrong, so I’m not worried about it,” dismissiveness.
More and more people are being targeted by cops and judges just for challenging them in even the slightest of ways. You could be next. Even if you think you can’t.
Welcome to the Dystopian States of America.
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