The Capitol riot has seemingly awakened white America to a fact we’ve known for quite a while: racists work everywhere. There was genuine shock that vets, enlisted service members, and members of law enforcement participated in a violent act of insurrection. That event has resulted in multiple state legislatures introducing bills that would prevent members of hate groups from joining law enforcement. What should be a straightforward process has instead faced pushback from lawmakers and law enforcement alike.
According to the New York Times, legislation to combat extremism in law enforcement has been introduced in California, Minnesota, Oregon, Tennessee, and Washington, D.C. While bills of this nature aren’t new, the events of Jan. 6 really put into focus (for white people) how much of a growing problem domestic extremism has become. “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.”
Some of the legislation would give law enforcement officials more authority to investigate the social media presence of potential applicants, while other bills would make it easier for police departments to fire cops if it’s found they engage in extremism or are members of hate groups. This sounds like a straightforward prospect that no decent minded individual should have a problem with, right?
Well, there’s this little thing called First Amendment rights that has led to a lot of hand wringing from officials in law enforcement.
Cops are protected by the First Amendment like everyone else in this country. Over 20 years ago, Mark Kruger, a Portland police officer, hung up plaques honoring Nazi-era German soldiers in a local park while he was off duty. When it was discovered around 2010 that he had hung up the plaques, he was suspended and a review board said he brought “discredit and disgrace” to the force. Kruger countered that he was simply a history buff exercising his First Amendment rights and threatened to sue. So, of course, the city gave him a $5,000 bonus, turned his suspension period into paid vacation time and allowed him to retire as a captain last year.
From the New York Times:
Racist gangs among Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies have been a problem for decades. In Virginia, Texas, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska and Louisiana, law enforcement officers have been dismissed in recent years for ties to the Ku Klux Klan. And various agencies have been shaken by revelations of police officers exchanging derogatory remarks about minorities on social media, with the Philadelphia Police Department dismissing 13 of the 72 officers it put on leave in 2019 because of such Facebook posts.
There is little hard data on the number of American police officers with explicit ties to extremism, although senior officials have repeatedly characterized domestic extremism as an accelerating threat. “We have a growing fear of domestic violent extremism and domestic terrorism,” Merrick Garland, the attorney general, said during a hearing on Capitol Hill last week.
Many legislators say that the spread in the country is mirrored in police departments.
Police officers themselves, at least those who acknowledge that there is an issue, tend to welcome the idea that added scrutiny will drive bad officers away. Major unions in California have supported the general idea of scrutinizing applicants more closely, but they opposed the first draft in February of a law that would reject all candidates who had been members of hate groups, participated in their activities or publicly expressed sympathy for them.
My general feeling on the matter is that if your job involves a gun, you should be held to a higher standard than everyone else. When it comes to the military, soldiers have limitations placed on what they can and can’t say for matters of combat readiness and unit cohesion. “Some of our rights are abridged because of the nature of the military organization and the importance of cohesion and combat readiness,” John Altenberg, a retired deputy judge advocate general of the Army, told NBC News when discussing extremism in the military. “We can’t just say anything we want.”
It only makes sense that that same principal should be carried over to people who are in charge of public safety. If you hate a large swath of the public, you probably shouldn’t be allowed to have a job where you can hurt those people. I don’t understand why this is a complicated issue. I mean I do—white supremacy will always try to intellectualize the brutality needed to maintain it—but still.
The result of all this hemming and hawing is that momentum on many of the bills introduced in these states has stalled. The bill in Portland is limited to just pre-screenings of potential officers, and the bill in California essentially boils down to a piece of text that says, “No member of a hate group should be in law enforcement and if you are a member of one of these groups don’t apply, you have no place in our profession.”
Yup, that’ll definitely stop extremists from trying to join the force.