American Political Aggression and Racial Justice


This week’s post is brought to you by the collaboration between Daniel Horton, a current blog editor & Jhevon McMillan, a current 2L at University of Montana law school. Jhevon is a current member of the UM Law Negotiations Team, & works as a legal intern at Schmidt, a firm in Missoula.


In 2020, more than 159 million Americans participated in our democracy by voting in the general election. On January 6, 2021, many witnessed the riots and insurrection on Capitol Hill, the day lawmakers certified the 2020 Electoral College votes. Here, many supporters of former President Donald Trump arrived on Capitol Hill to protest Mr. Trump’s 2020 defeat. Instead, rioters breached the Capitol to undermine vote certification, perpetuate badges of slavery and terror, and demand a sitting U.S. president remain in power against the will of over 81 million voters. A rioter was even charged with assaulting a police officer with a police riot shield, as another tried to rip the Metro D.C. police officer’s mask off. For many, events on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, were not a surprise. Specifically, the aggression of rioters and police readiness. Thus, understanding the current system’s roots in racism and dehumanization is critical to uprooting the problem and planting something better.

Aggression

Racism in the United States is the misuse of power by systems and institutions fueled by white supremacy.[1] The experiences of African Americans murdered and terrorized by mob violence for generations between Emancipation and the struggle for civil rights, alongside inaction by local and federal law enforcement and lawmakers, lay the groundwork for much of today’s inequality and injustice.[2] Not to mention the other racist and violent acts perpetrated on indigenous peoples, women, and other people of color. Historically, extreme violence was used to create and perpetuate white supremacy ideology and build an economic system around it.[3] Congressional efforts to provide federal protection and civil rights to freed African Americans were undermined by the United States Supreme Court’s rulings in cases like The Slaughterhouse Cases, 83 U.S. 36 (1872); United States v. Reese, 92 U.S. 214 (1875); and United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542 (1876).

For instance, in June 1921, a white mob demolished the Greenwood neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, known as Black Wall Street. These mobs killed more than 300 African Americans and destroyed more than 100 black-owned businesses and homes. In 1923, the same took place in Rosewood, Florida, where 97 lynchings were recorded, and thousands of Black residents’ homes and businesses were burned down. Then National Director of the NAACP, James Weldon Johnson, coined this period as the Red Summer of 1923. In recent years, white supremacists have executed deadly rampages in Charleston, South Carolina, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and El Paso, Texas.

Notably, the violence against African Americans was intentional and sought to punish African Americans for economic success and take it away. Here, anti-Black mobs intentionally organized to breach African Americans’ homes and businesses and perpetuate badges of slavery and terror against the nation’s will to end slavery and institute equal protection. And despite militia groups and white nationalists general support of law enforcement, many Metro Washington D.C. and U.S. Capitol Police officers were injured and overrun by the rioters. As a statement of truth and a movement for racial justice and equality, Black Lives Matter was non-existent. These acts were committed by white American mobs who favored the “stars and bars” of the confederacy over the equal treatment of freed African Americans under the new union. On Capitol Hill, rioters too were seen carrying confederate battle flags and hand signaling “white power” (similar to the “okay” hand sign). Just two days before, on January 4, Proud Boys militia leader, Enrique Tarrio, was arrested for destroying a Black Lives Matter sign belonging to one of Washington D.C.’s oldest Black churches as onlookers held “white power” hand signs. Thus, the aggression seen on Capitol Hill was not a surprise for many as the conduct mirrored America’s not so distant past.

However, this form of aggression is not the only problem to solve. Racial disparities have long permeated every step of the criminal justice process, including law enforcement agencies. Importantly, not all law enforcement officers hold white nationalist views, and not all militia members have white nationalist views. Though law enforcement officers’ abnegation to recognize and address racially discriminatory conduct by law enforcement officers, progress towards equality remains stymied.

A 2006 FBI counterterrorism report indicated white supremacists infiltrating law enforcement as a concern.[4] In 2017, the FBI reported that white supremacists posed a “persistent threat of lethal violence” that has produced more fatalities than any other domestic terrorists since 2000.[5]  Michael McGarrity, the FBI’s assistant director for counterterrorism in 2019, indicated he has not read the FBI’s 2006[6] assessment indicating white supremacist infiltration of law enforcement.[7] The flagrant inattention to a report directly relevant to Mr. McGarrity’s position is outright abnegation of job duties; especially, after the Capitol Hill insurrection involved militias and white nationalist groups. Internal FBI communications also indicated that white supremacist and anti-government militia groups have “active links” to law enforcement officials.[8] But this is nothing new.

In 1964, civil rights workers during the Freedom Summer voter registration drive went missing (Mississippi Burning). After President Lyndon Johnson ordered FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to find them, it was revealed that local law enforcement refused to investigate the murders. The Justice Department concluded the investigation by charging 19 Klansmen with civil rights violations.[9] In the 1980s, a KKK firebombing investigation of a Black family’s Kentucky home exposed a Jefferson County police officer as a Klan leader. In his deposition, the officer admitted to directing a 40-member Klan subgroup called the Confederate Officers Patriot Squad (COPS), half of whom were police officers.[10] Lastly, in Thomas v. County of Los Angeles, a $9 million settlement in 1996 concluded a class action lawsuit alleging a gang of racist Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies (Lynwood Vikings) systematically shot, killed, terrorized, and house-trashed Black and Latino communities.[11] A $7 million settlement in 2019 linked two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies to similar deputy gangs like that of 1996. However, when the deputies were forced by court order to reveal other deputies with deputy gang tattoos, the case settled.

Further, inattention of officer conduct is harmful to law enforcement. The lack of readiness on January 6 illustrates this. Senior officials with the Pentagon and Justice Department shared anonymously with the Associated Press that U.S. Capitol Police denied their help days before as reinforcements. The Capitol Police has more than 2,300 staff and a $500 million budget. Some Capitol Police officers indicated they never heard from Police Chief Steven Sund, who would resign the next day. Lt. Tarik Johnson gave the order to refrain from using deadly force and was heard repeatedly asking, “Does anyone have a plan?” Notwithstanding warnings from various agencies and online traffic, it is unclear why the threats escaped heightened security measures. Though, many suggest the link between white supremacists and law enforcement as the reason.

Any law enforcement officers associating with these groups should be treated as a matter of urgent concern because such policing undermines public trust in equal justice and the rule of law. Operating under color of law, such officers endanger the lives and liberty of people of color, religious minorities, LGBTQ+ people, and anti-racist activists, both through their violence and failure to properly respond when other racist, violent crime victimizes these communities.

In this new year, excuses for this type of aggression and renegade law enforcement are unsustainable. As Americans, fanning the violent flames of aggression is not patriotism or justified. There must be improved avenues to uphold the rule of law without racial discrimination in the name of “preserving American law and order.” Capitol Hill’s insurrection is a sign for all Americans to relinquish the pitchfork of hatred and reject justifications for harming innocent life. Continued equivocation of aggression and white supremacy fuels further death and turmoil in a nation that deserves much better.

Thank you for reading this week’s post dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy of advancing civil rights through nonviolence and civil disobedience.

– J. Mcmillan and D. Horton


https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/hidden-plain-sight-racism-white-supremacy-and-far-right-militancy-law#footnote8_i39kb0n

https://www.americanbar.org/groups/crsj/publications/human_rights_magazine_home/black-to-the-future/tolerance-for-violence/

https://time.com/5894743/trump-proud-boys-history/

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/2020/06/remembering-red-summer-white-mobs-massacred-blacks-tulsa-dc/

https://abcnews.go.com/US/capitol-rioter-allegedly-posted-pelosis-office-instagram-arrested/story?id=75324078

https://www.foxnews.com/politics/democrats-split-domestic-terrorism-law-capitol-riot


[1] Joseph R. Brandt, UNDERSTANDING AND DISMANTLING RACISM, 75–76 (2007).

[2] CONG. GLOBE, 42nd Cong., 1st Sess., 375, 436-40 (1871) (Rep. Clinton Cobb).

[3] Stephen Kantrowitz, Ben Tillman & The Reconstruction of White Supremacy, 2 (2000).

[4] See generally Counterterrorism Div., Fed. Bureau of Investigation, White Supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement, (2006).

[5] Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Homeland Security, Joint Intelligence Bulletin, White Supremacist Extremism Poses Persistent Threat of Lethal Violence, May 10, 2017, https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3924852-White-Supremacist-Extremism-JIB.html.

[6] See Counterterrorism Div., Fed. Bureau of Investigation, White Supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement, 3-4 (2006).

[7] Confronting Violent White Supremacy (Part II): Adequacy of the Federal Response—Hearing before the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, House of Representatives, 116th Cong. 22 (2019), https://docs.house.gov/meetings/GO/GO02/20190604/109579/HHRG-116-GO02-Transcript-20190604.pdf.

[8] Federal Bureau of Investigation, Counterterrorism Division, Counterterrorism Policy Directive and Policy Guide, April 1, 2015 (updated November 18, 2015), 89, https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/3423189/CT-Excerpt.pdf.

[9] U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Investigation of the 1964 Murders of Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman, June 2016, 13–14, http://docshare04.docshare.tips/files/31625/316255786.pdf.

[10] In Re the Courier-Journal and Louisville Times Company, Petitioners, v. Robert Marshall and Martha Marshall, Respondents, 828 F.2d 361 (6th Cir. 1987); Marshall v. Bramer, 828 F.2d 325 (6th Cir. 1987).

[11] 978 F.2d 504 (9th Cir. 1992).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: