Defund the Police? Purge Them, Instead

Calls to defund the police are less urgent - the bigger priority is to screen and flush out white terrorists infiltrating law enforcement.

Joint Composition | Charles Ellison & Dr. G.S. Potter

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Ellison …

Instead of defunding the police, the immediate priority is to purge the police. White supremacists have been infiltrating law enforcement agencies for quite some time, and we have yet to come up with concerted plans to stop that. Recent stories of this happening in Washington, D.C. during the recent attack on the U.S. Capitol are nothing new, unfortunately.

There are reports both anecdotal and confirmed that police officers - particularly U.S. Capitol Police - aided and abetted white insurrectionists attacking the seat of government last week. House Democrats are investigating further.

There’s even video footage showing Capitol Police officers either welcoming in or opening up barricades to invading swarms of extremists and others taking selfies …

Multiple reports confirm officers, for example, showing terrorists where Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's (D-NY) office is. And there are reports from current D.C. police officers who claim there were current police officers among insurrectionists clashing with local police last week, flashing their badges. So, we know police played a big role in the massive security failure in D.C. last week.

What's been needed for some time, but hasn’t happened, yet, is the larger national conversation and needed response on 1) the accelerated infiltration of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies by white supremacists, especially in recent years and 2) how those agencies screen for them and how we flush them out. It's gotten so bad that even the Secret Service recently acknowledged, publicly, that it is in the process of reconfiguring security details for President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris because of concerns that the originally planned details were saturated with MAGA-leaning Trump loyalists.

Hopefully, inevitable Congressional investigations will focus in on the extent to which white nationalists or fanatical MAGA followers have swelled Capitol Police ranks - and how that was a main driver in the collapse of security on Capitol Hill. This is not far-fetched or bizarre or unusual for Congress to do: the House Committee on Oversight and Reform held a hearing in September entitled "White Supremacy in Blue—The Infiltration of Local Police Departments" ….

The findings from that hearing should be revisited in the discussion on what happened last week. In addition, let’s also revisit the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s own warnings on this topic, plus recent and exhaustive research from sources such as the Brennan Center

The harms that armed law enforcement officers affiliated with violent white supremacist and anti-government militia groups can inflict on American society could hardly be overstated. Yet despite the FBI’s acknowledgement of the links between law enforcement and these suspected terrorist groups, the Justice Department has no national strategy designed to identify white supremacist police officers or to protect the safety and civil rights of the communities they patrol.

Obviously, only a tiny percentage of law enforcement officials are likely to be active members of white supremacist groups. But one doesn’t need access to secretive intelligence gathered in FBI terrorism investigations to find evidence of overt and explicit racism within law enforcement. Since 2000, law enforcement officials with alleged connections to white supremacist groups or far-right militant activities have been exposed in Alabama, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and elsewhere.

Defunding the police, in this respect, is not really the key priority. The core problem is white supremacists in the ranks of police departments, in addition to the white supremacist or white supremacist-allied leadership in police unions. We can defund the police all we want, but that will do nothing if active, collaborating white nationalist elements remain in the police departments. So, what if you successfully defund the police then what? Well, there's no progress since sleeper cell white extremists can still run amuck or control those departments in plain sight and find other creative ways to wreak havoc. What we need to do is quickly pivot the conversation to how we flush these terrorists out of these agencies.

How do we purge the police?

Potter …

It’s important to locate this conversation on the larger battlefield before we dive in too deep. 

The starting point is shifting operational attention away from funding and towards rooting out white nationalist officers.  This operational goal sits under the overall strategic objective of ending police brutality. All that rests over the tactical goals that would be needed to achieve either: Passing policy, reframing the media narrative, organizing community members, voting in officials, etc.

The first conflict is going to come from competing\complimentary operational strategies. Operations on this battlefield fall into a few categories. Other goals include getting rid of qualified immunity, eliminating the police unions or National Fraternal Order of Police, or creating community oversight boards, etc.

In my opinion, it is vital to overturn Tennessee v. Garner, Harlow v. Fitzgerald (which gave police qualified immunity), and Graham v. Connor.  Until we do, there is no legal ground to stand on when police brutality occurs.  That’s not going to happen anytime soon, especially with the current structure of the Supreme Court.  To make steps towards that happening we need to either organize to remove Trump appointees or to expand the courts. In either case, educating the community on this process and organizing them to participate would be extremely valuable. 

It is also important to eliminate the police unions.  That, in my opinion, is a complimentary goal to purging the white nationalists, but it can easily be set up as a competing goal if we aren’t careful. 

So I think it’s important to state that purging the terrorists from the police department is one operational goal under the overarching goal of eliminating police brutality.  But: because of this once in a lifetime (hopefully) window of opportunity, we need to move fast on this. So prioritizing it now, before the window closes, is important. We can and should continue working on other goals, but this one we need to accomplish while we have the chance. Anytime we try to reprioritize, a crab barrel battle can easily be incited.  We need to intentionally avoid that as best we can. 

Another major clarification in that same vein is in regards to the idea there are “ … just a few bad apples.” 

We must be very clear that we are not falling for the idea that most cops are good and that there are only a few bad apples. It’s not true, and our side is trained to push back on that. As they should be. So that ties back into the need to ensure that folks know that this is just one strategy that is part of a larger coordinated effort that seeks structural, and not just interpersonal, reform. 

One way to do that is to say that we still need all hands on deck for the other efforts for change, but again we have a window to make this purge and we need to jump on it.  Rhetorically\tactically, we might be able to accomplish this by acknowledging that we aren’t talking about “bad apples,” we’re talking about poison apples - or more specifically, an organized orchard of white terrorist apples.  We can say that there are absolutely racist cops that target Black folks and not White folks.  But there are also white nationalist terrorists that are organized as a force outside the police infiltrating law enforcement as an organized network. The links on the FBI and Congressional hearings can help with that narrative. And we can make clear that while this purge will be under the umbrella of rooting out white nationalists because of national security and the aftermath of the insurrection, we can use it to create the reforms needed to root out the run-of-the-mill racists, too. 

Now that we’ve located our operation as a complementary, but time sensitive campaign, we have to look at its relationship with “defund the police.” 

The Purge campaign, I think, can stand on its own without even discussing Defund the Police.  But let’s assume that the majority of active BLM supporters also support the agenda behind defund the police even if they get that full-on Abolishing the Police is not a viable solution.  To do this we need full community buy-in. So we also need to discuss the relationship between the two. 

“Defund the Police,” in my opinion, is one of the most laughable fast-food slogans in the history of activism, at a time when the fate of the world literally rests on us having our collective shit together. Yet here we are.  

Defund the Police is fractured into 2 realities. The first reality is located in the slogan itself.  The second reality is located in the agenda. As an expert in co-optation, I know that the one of the most important components of co-optation is a schism between the message and the motion. If the words and the agenda don’t align, you are open for corruption if you aren’t corrupt already. You’re probably corrupt though. Just saying.  And strategically, unless you are intentionally applying this form of deception, it’s going to be used against you.  We see that in this case. 

The right loves to point out that defunding the police entirely is a stupid idea. The nearly 50 percent of people who were once sympathetic to Black Lives Matter right after the murder of George Floyd, but have since wafted back to their comfort zones do, too. They also don’t have the motivation or attention span to listen to an activist or ally try to explain to them what the agenda actually means.

The left that is still defending the slogan like it.  They have the feels. The “hardcore” (or rather loud, visible, and cocky) activists might actually think abolishing the police is a fine goal. They might even point to the relationship between the police and slave patrols and the great Migration. The “woke” will defend it and try to explain that the agenda isn’t about defunding the police but redirecting funding to the community.  Here’s sociologist Rashawn Ray out of Brookings explaining away

… Some large municipalities with a history of police brutality have reallocated funds in line with the defund police movement. Los Angeles will have at least $100 million reallocated away from LAPD to programs for minority communities. San Francisco Mayor London Breed said that she will work with community groups to reprioritize funding. Baltimore City Council voted to reallocate $22 million away from the police department’s fiscal budget for 2021, which is typically over $500 million. The city council plans to redirect the funding to recreational centers, trauma centers, and forgivable loans for Black-owned businesses. Prince George’s County, Maryland, aims to reallocate $20 million away from a new training facility for its police department (though the money will not come out of the police department’s budget) and to remove student resource officers from schools. Other areas, such as Minneapolis, have advocated for removing police officers from schools as well.

Reallocation is all well and good, but there are a few reasons that this strategy can, and has, backfired.

As we discussed, potential allies are uncomfortable with it. Even if it is a slogan.  There is no infrastructure or will from the public available to teach enough people what the divide is about to make it successful.  The discussion about reform is easily shifted to the slogan instead of the solutions.  And all that was before the insurrection.

The insurrection has brought with it a need to understand why the police were complicit and the inability to deny the damage that can be caused if proper law enforcement is not in place.  It is clear that law enforcement was infiltrated.  And they were infiltrated by white nationalist terrorists. In this unique time and place there is a large amount of support for identifying and removing them.  This is that window we need to jump through. 

The insurrection gives us the opportunity to actively shape media and social media narratives.  We will need legislators to participate as well.  And we will need to diffuse the Defund the Police trap and invite other participants into our fold.

Defund the Police is a cooptation (even if well meaning) of the work from generations before Defund that fought police brutality.  It would be nice to revive old slogans that our generation and prior generations used and maybe use that as a bridgeable moment to connect the generations.  Then, with love, we can remind this generation this this particular slogan is just one of many in the larger struggle.  We can’t lose sight of the struggle because we like the words or want to win an argument.

A larger point, ultimately: if we starve the beast, all that’s left is the hungriest belly.  If we defund, they will cut everyone but the whitest of white nationalists.  They can also refuse to do their jobs.  They have done this before. There was a pullback in 2015 because of the Freddie Grey efforts.  There was a slowdown in NYC in 2015. They even rioted about NYC’s first and only Black mayor, David Dinkins.  We. Have. Been. Here. Before.  They can make crime go up.  Wherever they want. That’s what happens when you cut the police out of your neighborhood.  We have the statistics on that. To get to that level of diffusion, though, we’d probably need something like Black Lives Matter denouncing the slogan altogether or putting another one in place. 

But: How exactly do we screen?

One of the most cited problems with police oversight is an inability to access police records or use them against an officer even if we can access them. Those problems were created by police unions and encodified in police contracts.  There are other creative ideas we could use. For example, companies like IHOP - yes, that International House of Pancakes IHOP - has a bot system that tracks all of it’s employees’ social media accounts. If you say anything negative against the company, it will find you and report you and you will get fired.  I have no idea why this isn’t used against the police.  Oh wait, yes I do: It’s the National Fraternal Order of Police, that’s why.  So a lot of our solutions here are completely stopped by the influence of the NFOP and police contracts.

This leads to other questions: 1) If we have to destroy the NFOP to get this done, how do we do it? And 2) Can we do it without destroying the GOP?

If we need to destroy the police union, things to think about …

  • The AFL-CIO has not yet cut ties with the police unions.  This is one avenue of pressure that could be applied. 

  • The police were given the authority to unionize as a result of President Kennedy’s Executive Order 10988 giving public employees the right to unionize.  It was absorbed under President Nixon’s Eexecutive Order 11491.  Congress can overturn or invalidate executive orders and, of course, a new President can just write a new one that supersedes the old one; or, could we just adjust these EOs to remove police from them?  Or can the police can be brought under the same legislative umbrella that prevents the military form unionizing? 

  • Also, after the insurrection, can we label police unions as a terrorist group?

If we can do it without destroying the police union …

  • Are there enough Black Apples and Good apples to organize a competing union? Is there time?

  • Are there enough to organize to investigate and bring to light officers that need to be purged themselves?

  • Public safety and national security have collided.  Is there a way to create and oversight commission at the federal level?  Maybe through a cabinet position or through a federal agency such as Homeland Security, the FBI and/or the Central Intelligence Agency (to investigate foreign ties) or the Defense Intelligence Agency?  In addition to community policing, can we get some federal oversight in the name of national security?

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