Commentary: Racism, Extremism, and Policing

It was only a few years ago when the San Francisco Police Department was embroiled in a scandal – a number of officers got caught up sending not only racist jokes, but making derogatory statements about suspects and victims, and also sending racist messages to colleagues.

In 2014, a retired police officer wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post.  “Being a cop showed me just how racist and violent the police are. There’s only one fix.”

He writes, “n 1994, I joined the St. Louis Police Department. I quickly realized how naive I’d been. I was floored by the dysfunctional culture I encountered. I won’t say all, but many of my peers were deeply racist.”

One example: “A couple of officers ran a Web site called St. Louis Coptalk, where officers could post about their experience and opinions. At some point during my career, it became so full of racist rants that the site administrator temporarily shut it down. Cops routinely called anyone of color a “thug,” whether they were the victim or just a bystander.”

There was also the Sacramento based-Facebook group in which the group attacked lawmakers and leaders in the Black Community after there was protest and pushback against officer involved shootings in Sacramento in the last few years.

The page claims to be:  “The unofficial voice to the hardworking men and women of the Sacramento Police Department,” and its posts railed against anti-police sentiment.

In one post May 29, 2017, “Typical (Anita) Chabria story.  You can taste the disgust for Cops.”

In my own interactions with former and current law enforcement, I have been repeatedly stunned by not only how extreme some are in their right wing views but that those views encroach into racist and other intolerant spaces.

So it wasn’t much of a surprise when in June, I read Reveal, the publication from the Center for Investigative Reporting, that they found, “Hundreds of active-duty and retired law enforcement officers from across the United States are members of Confederate, anti-Islam, misogynistic or anti-government militia groups on Facebook, a Reveal investigation has found.”

In their investigation, they found, “These cops have worked at every level of American law enforcement, from tiny, rural sheriff’s departments to the largest agencies in the country, such as the Los Angeles and New York police departments.”

“The groups cover a range of extremist ideologies,” the report continues. “Some present themselves publicly as being dedicated to benign historical discussion of the Confederacy, but are replete with racism inside. Some trade in anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant memes. Some are openly Islamophobic. And almost 150 of the officers we found are involved with violent anti-government groups such as the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters.”

Reveal reports: “More than 50 departments launched internal investigations after being presented with our findings, in some cases saying they would examine officers’ past conduct to see if their online activity mirrored their policing in real life. And some departments have taken action, with at least one officer being fired for violating department policies.”

But there is more.

ProPublica’s report released on July 1 infiltrated a “secret border patrol Facebook group,” where they found, “agents joke about migrant deaths and post sexist memes.”

ProPublica reports: “The three-year-old group, which has roughly 9,500 members, shared derogatory comments about Latina lawmakers who plan to visit a controversial Texas detention facility on Monday, calling them “scum buckets” and “hoes.””

For example, “In one exchange, group members responded with indifference and wisecracks to the post of a news story about a 16-year-old Guatemalan migrant who died in May while in custody at a Border Patrol station in Weslaco, Texas. One member posted a GIF of Elmo with the quote, “Oh well.” Another responded with an image and the words “If he dies, he dies.””

Created in August 2016, the Facebook group is called “I’m 10-15” and boasts roughly 9,500 members from across the country.  10-15 refers to the Border Patrol code for “aliens in custody.”

ProPublica reports that it received multiple images from recent discussions in these groups and then “was able to link the participants in those online conversations to apparently legitimate Facebook profiles belonging to Border Patrol agents, including a supervisor based in El Paso, Texas, and an agent in Eagle Pass, Texas. ProPublica has so far been unable to reach the group members who made the postings.”

“These comments and memes are extremely troubling,” said Daniel Martinez, a sociologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson who studies the border. “They’re clearly xenophobic and sexist.”

Last week, The Intercept reported that several Border Patrol supervisors were part of the group, including, at one point, the agency’s chief, Carla Provost.

Although Chief Provost was quick to repudiate them.

“These posts are completely inappropriate and contrary to the honor and integrity I see — and expect — from our agents day in and day out,” Chief Provost said in a statement. “Any employees found to have violated our standards of conduct will be held accountable.”

The Intercept notes that Carla Provost, who was named head of the agency in August 2018, the group’s existence and content “should have come as no surprise.”  She posted in the group, though her posts was described as innocuous, “but her participation in the group, which she has since left, raises serious questions.”

On June 18, the Chicago Reporter, reported that a “Chicago lieutenant among hundreds of cops to post hateful comments on Facebook.”  That reporter made anti-Islamic and anti-transgender posts and was named in two misconduct cases that resulted in a total payout of $118,000. The lieutenant, Richard Moravec, also has 70 complaints filed against him – more than 99 percent of Chicago police officers, according to the Citizens Police Data Project.

Then there is the case out of New Jersey, “N.J. corrections officer exposed by racism report. Now he’s apologizing for anti-Muslim comments.”  He posted anti-Islamic content , including one post calling the Prophet Muhammad a “goat F—er.”  Reveal found that he was a member of the Islamophobic Facebook group “Infidel Brotherhood Worldwide.” He continues to post anti-LGBTQ content on his own page, according to’s report.

Are these just a few bad apples?  Perhaps.  But there is also a systemic problem at work here.  A culture that permits or at least looks the other way at this conduct.

The real danger though is this.  We have come off a five year period starting in August 2014 with the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, where the black community and increasingly progressive and other communities believe that people of color are being singled out by racist police.

At times we have warned about unconscious bias, but what these revelations show is that overt bias is looming not that far away from the surface.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Alan Miller

    . . . among hundreds of cops to post hateful comments on Facebook.”

    What is as troubling as the racism is how literally stupid these particular cops are.  What moron posts the things they would say only to their racist buddies in a hick bar while on their tenth beer and place it in a place permanently available to their employer and the entire world?  Maybe all racists are stupid — or is that an insult to the stupid?

    At times we have warned about unconscious bias, but what these revelations show is that overt bias is looming not that far away from the surface.

    Um . . . you might want to re-think that sentence.  Overt bias is by definition *above* the surface.

    1. David Greenwald

      No. I’m distinguishing between unconscious bias where people may be unaware of their bias influencing views and conduct, and people who have more overt forms of bias which they may try to hide but is not far beneath the surface.

        1. Craig Ross

          Um… you are clearly not understanding what “overt” racism is and seem to have ”in the open” as opposed to how it is meant here, which means “direct.”

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