By : Grace Raih
7 min read
The pervasiveness of white supremacist collaborators in U.S. police departments is not news, especially within the psyche of Black Americans. Publicly, the FBI has designated domestic violent extremist groups, particularly white supremacists, as a mounting threat to U.S. national security. While they choose to highlight this threat publicly, law enforcement agencies have historically failed to weed out this threat within their own ranks. This should not be viewed as a failure of funding, reform, or policy, but rather an imperative mechanism to maintain the core function of modern policing.
Surveilling and controlling the propagation and success of Black justice movements is central to policing. During the 2020 uprising, a trove of released FBI documents revealed that the bureau had been indiscriminately tracking and investigating Black activists for years under the controversial designation of “black identity extremists.” This marker generated by the FBI Counterterrorism Division was distributed to law enforcement agencies across the country, maintaining that there was an increasing, racially motivated terroristic threat to law enforcement. In reality, this term “black identity extremist” was a catchall created to deflect from and suppress the legitimate and growing condemnations of racist police brutality.
COINTELPRO-like operations in which government agencies surveil protest movements and commit political sabotage are not of a bygone era. In a recent case, the FBI paid an informant with a violent criminal history to infiltrate and undermine the Black Lives Matter Movement in Denver. Agent provocateurs such as these are often individuals recruited by law enforcement to avoid incarceration in exchange for their role as monitors, disruptors and enactors of criminal activity within political movements. When political movements that threaten the status quo are targeted by law enforcement, agents provocateurs are encouraged to infiltrate and gain trust within an organization, collect vital information and encourage criminal activity or acts of violence that can disrupt and delegitimize a movement.
The designation of a new generation of Black activists who speak out against racist police terror as “black identity extremists'' is a contrived effort to smear the Black Lives Matter movement and shield blame from the proliferation of white supremacists within law enforcement agencies. The 2020 uprising was a national reckoning with the inherently racist system of policing as a whole, not solely against interpersonal or individualized racism - or “bad apples.” In the case of the murder of Tyre Nichols, how can a conversation about white supremacists infiltrating law enforcement agencies reconcile that a young Black man was beaten to death by five Black officers?
The racist institution of law enforcement cannot be absolved through diversification efforts because the larger structure at work is built to over-police Black communities. Police forces were first banded together as slave patrols to maintain capitalist interests, protect wealth, and safeguard property along racial lines. White supremacy was foundational to the formation of the police and has remained integral to its function in the modern era. How can you purge white supremacists from an institution built and maintained upon white supremacy? Law enforcement cannot and will not purge white supremacists from their ranks because there are no good cops in a racist system.
Originally published in-print in Boston Compass Newspaper #155 March 2023
Check out all the art and columns of March's Boston Compass at www.issuu.com/bostoncccompass