Congress Tries to Root Out White Supremacy Among Police

September 29, 2020 by Tom Ramstack
A Detail of the U.S. Capitol, Aug. 5, 2020. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers and witnesses at a congressional hearing Tuesday urged greater vigilance of police departments to weed out officers with White supremacist tendencies.

They said the White supremacists create a risk of inflaming racial tensions in a way that could go beyond any single police confrontation.

“The spread of violent White supremacy is a threat to everybody,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md.

The House Oversight and Reform subcommittee on civil rights and civil liberties held the hearing as Congress considers the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which is named after an African-American man strangled to death by a Minneapolis police officer in May. His death led to protests nationwide.

The bill includes tough provisions to hold police accountable for abuses of authority, particularly during racial incidents.

Raskin, who chairs the subcommittee, dismissed Republican accusations that he and other Democrats sought to undermine the ability of police to respond to crime and threats.

Instead, he blamed a small number of police officers for inciting problems for many others. He said the Trump administration shared the fault.

“As with COVID-19, the Trump administration has tried to mislead the public by downplaying the problem,” Raskin said.

The House passed the Justice in Policing Act two months ago but it faces opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The bill would require police departments to revamp their procedures by banning chokeholds and no-knock warrants. It would trim back officers’ qualified immunity, making it easier to prosecute or sue them for misconduct.

Republicans have proposed their own police reform bill but it is weaker in its demands for reform. It is similar to the Justice in Policing Act only in its requirements for more training of police officers and transparency in police practices.

The training in both bills would focus on racial sensitivity and avoidance of brutality.

The Democratic proposals drew criticism from Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, who said they jeopardize public safety.

“You’re undermining our entire rule of law,” Roy said.

He talked about the Austin city council cutting back on its police personnel by one-third in response to the Black Lives Matter movement’s call to defund police departments.

As a result, some Austin residents were faced with delayed or no police response when they fell victim to criminal attacks.

“In many cases, they cannot call on the police for help,” Roy said.

Heather Taylor, a former police sergeant and president of the Ethical Society of Police, based in St. Louis, Mo., recommended that any reforms begin by consulting all groups that might be affected.

“We have to have diversity there to bring these views into play,” Taylor said.

She said she knew of many African-Americans who wanted to become police officers in St. Louis but they experienced difficulty obtaining or holding the jobs.

“The catch is that the hiring process sometimes is not fair,” Taylor said.

Mark Napier, sheriff of Pima County, Ariz., said many of the concerns about police misconduct already are being addressed by thoroughly screening police officers.

“Today we even scan social media” to search for troublesome behavior of officers and applicants, he said.

“These are the actions of a very, very few members of law enforcement,” Napier said.

After they are hired, the officers are trained to avoid racial bias and improper use of force, he said.

However, he acknowledged that racism still exists and is “a serious problem.”

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