Black in Blue: Black Officers Facing White Racism

The Secret Service, like the majority of government policing agencies Police At The White Houseeverywhere, is mostly run by white men many of whom, apparently, still have not moved much beyond the hard version of the old white racial frame ( Creative Commons License photo credit: troshy ). They claim to be colorblind, but have allowed in the last decades much overtly racist activity to go on within their confines, or done it themselves — and when they are caught and called out they usually do not take remedial action.

Well, a brave federal magistrate judge in DC handed down a decision sanctioning the U.S. Secret Service

for stonewalling plaintiffs in a race discrimination case against the agency. The judge concluded that the plaintiffs have “established a prima facie case of discriminatory non promotion” because of the agency’s repeated misconduct in not producing documents and that the agency must pay the plaintiffs’ legal fees for the related motions for sanctions.

This is, sadly, an old case involves more than 100 African American agents (a huge number for one such agency) that should have been resolved with quick anti-discrimination action long ago:

The lawsuit, filed nearly a decade ago against the service on behalf of more than 100 current and former black agents, alleges that managers discriminated against them when they considered promotions. . . . The suit has revealed that senior managers at the service circulated e-mails with apparently racist imagery and messages, which the plaintiffs claimed were a manifestation of the discriminatory culture of the agency. . . . Hogan & Hartson’s Melissa Henke, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, said in a statement, “For years, the Secret Service has aggressively hidden the truth about the culture of pervasive racial discrimination at the agency. The court’s sanction is a positive step towards correcting the prejudice suffered by former and current African- American special agents as a result of the Secret Service’s misconduct in this lawsuit.”

Some readers may have seen or heard about the racist emails that some high-level managers circulated at the agency, action that is all too typical in white-controlled policing agencies across the country:

They included a video of an interracial couple confronted by Ku Klux Klan members with a burning cross, a message with a crude sexual joke about blacks and American Indians allegedly sent by an agent who served on the detail of President-elect Obama during his campaign and other e-mails that targeted prominent blacks, from activists to entertainers.

Ken Bolton and I did a book that involved interviews with fifty African American police officers in federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, and this stuff is tame compared to the extraordinarily racist stuff many of these officers have seen and experienced. One example of the hostile racial climate in many agencies, generated by white fellow officers, is seen in this black trooper’s interview:

I reported and was told that I’d be riding with another [white] officer who was going to show me around. There was another [white] trooper in the [highway] median and as we, he pulled over into the median to see that trooper to talk, he looked over and saw, you know, that there was another new trooper there. And he said it as a joke, but it wasn’t funny at the time. He used the word “nigger.” “Oh, that’s just what we need, another fucking ‘nigger,'” you know, and laughed, and they laughed and carried on. And I looked, and they could see I wasn’t laughing.

Or the commonplace discrimination in promotions (like at Secret Service) can be seen in this interview of another black officer:

I’ve faced a lot of opposition toward promotion. I’ve been up for lieutenant eleven times, and I’ve been passed over even though I’ve passed every exam. . . . I was just recently transferred back to [an old post] where I have [whites] who are my junior, people that I had recruited that have been promoted and that are now my supervisors. They have less education, they have less time in grade, they have less experience as an officer, but now they’re my supervisors. So, I’ve faced much opposition, simply because I’m very outspoken.

Or what happens if you protest systemic racism can be seen in this older, veteran black officer’s interview (also like at the Secret Service):

Some people used to say I was a troublemaker, I said, “Troublemaker, how? What have I done to cause trouble? Because I won’t let you say ‘nigger’ in front of me? That’s a troublemaker? Because I won’t let you treat people wrong, that’s a troublemaker?

The “people” who are the problem in regard to hostile racial climates in all too many law enforcement agencies are well-trained, educated white police officers, including The White Housethose up in high management positions. The “good old boys” still are the problem well into the 21st century. And for each of these cases, our interviews have hundreds of other examples. (I have encountered many others in doing expert witness duty in policing cases too.) These examples are not isolated problems of bigots, but as in the Secret Service example are about systemic racism–about well-institutionalized racism few whites are willing to acknowledge, much less do something about ( Creative Commons License photo credit: @ly$ in wonderland ).

Ah, it would be nice if we would in our lifetimes come close to the liberty and justice rhetoric that our white leaders have parroted now for centuries!

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