The assault on the U.S. Capitol has drawn attention to the presence of far-right extremists in the U.S. military and law enforcement. While the Pentagon has taken steps to address the problem, the police chiefs will have a much harder time rooting out extremism in their departments. The U.S. military is a centralized, hierarchical organization. Orders from the top can quickly be implemented throughout the armed services while law enforcement is highly decentralized. The United States has more than 17,000 state and local law enforcement agencies. This decentralization makes it easier for extremist groups to recruit police and harder for departments to remove officers who join them. Racism in American law enforcement has a long, ugly history. Beginning in 1704, Southern communities created “slave patrols,” bodies of armed officers empowered to intimidate enslaved people, capture and return those who escaped and deter slave rebellions. After the Civil War the patrols developed into police departments. During the era of Jim Crow, police enforced segregation and even participated in extrajudicial violence, sometimes handing African American prisoners over to lynch mobs. Members of law enforcement joined the Ku Klux Klan and even served as its leaders. When African Americans left the South during the Great Migration, Northern police departments viewed them with suspicion and aggressively patrolled their neighborhoods. Officers viewed their task as protecting “respectable” white communities from “lawless” Black ones. Police responded aggressively to the civil rights demonstrations of the 1960s, employing the same heavy-handed methods against peaceful protesters in Selma, Ala., and rioters in Los Angeles. Civil rights legislation ended Jim Crow but did not reform policing. Excessive force complaints by minorities against officers continued, although they rarely led to criminal charges being filed.
Occasionally, racist behavior became so blatant that the authorities were compelled to act. On March 3, 1991, four white Los Angeles police officers tasered and severely beat motorist Rodney King as approximately two dozen others watched. Unbeknownst to any of them, a man on a nearby balcony filmed the episode. The video evidence helped convict two officers on federal charges. The episode foreshadowed the era of the cell phone camera, which would make police misconduct harder to hide. The institutional racism prevalent in many police forces does not constitute white supremacy per se, but it creates an environment conducive to extremist recruitment. The increase in the number of white supremacist groups and their membership over the past two decades has been thoroughly documented. As white supremacy spread, concern over extremist groups recruiting officers increased. A 2006 FBI report warned of white supremacists infiltrating law enforcement and the 2015 Counterterrorism Policy Directive and Policy Guide reiterated the warning, “white supremacist extremists, and sovereign citizen extremists often have identified active links to law enforcement officers.”
via thehill: White supremacy and American policing