One of the scariest parts about this horrible administration is how law enforcement at all levels, from local cops to the fascists who work for ICE to the Border Patrol union, are chomping at the bit to do whatever Trump wants. We’ve seen this most aggressively from ICE of course, but our law enforcement loves a fascist president and will do everything they can to ensure more of them. Sarah Jaffe has a good piece detailing this.
This is no longer an issue of one election; Trump may not have kept many of his promises, but he is keeping the ones he made to the police officers who supported him. And it’s also not just about Trump; around the country, police work hand-in-hand with far-right politicians orchestrating crackdowns on immigrants, harsher penalties for crimes, and so-called “blue lives matter” bills that make crimes against police equivalent to crimes against marginalized and oppressed groups. In California, for example, the California State Sheriffs’ Association is working hard to bury a “sanctuary state” proposal, and one sheriff even publicly floated the idea of her county simply ignoring the law if it were to pass.
While the occasional story of an officer with neo-Nazi tattoos or apparent ties to white supremacist websites does surface from time to time, this is not a matter of individual officers going rogue. It is a belief system produced through the decades of American policing, a history that includes police collusion with white supremacist vigilantes in the South and elsewhere, as Vitale points out. There is also police overlap with militia groups like the Oath Keepers—in 2015, reporting for my book, I spoke with Sam Andrews, a former Oath Keeper who had left the organization over its refusal to endorse an open-carry march he held with black residents of Ferguson and the greater St. Louis area. For the police in the organization, he said, such a thing was a bridge too far.
These days, open collusion with white supremacist groups might be less common, but an offensive post made to the Instagram account of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association of Newburgh, New York, this August struck a nerve because it seemed to echo the policy on the ground in Charlottesville. The image, rapidly denounced by the PBA and the police department, showed a Confederate flag juxtaposed with a photo of young black men with sagging pants, with the words “This does not offend me” emblazoned over the flag and “This bullshit does” over the photo. It was a sign, once again, of just who “us” and “them” is.
And so, in the age of Trump, police and the institutions that represent them continue to double down on their siege mentality. As protesters confront white supremacists in city after city—as I write this, Berkeley’s streets are full of red flags and tear gas—police still seem to see protesters, particularly protesters of the political left, as a sign of disorder. The movement for black lives, along with its demands for accountability or even abolition of the police, is felt to be a particular threat to police officers, and Trump has done his best to encourage this feeling. With his approval ratings at an all-time low and officials departing his administration like proverbial rats from a sinking ship, Trump has sent a signal to what Marcy Wheeler has noted is the “respectable” part of his base—the police—that anything goes. This should concern us.
This is also incredibly dangerous. If the worst nightmares of Trump severely eroding democracy do come to fruition, law enforcement will be at the center of it. And yet even today, law enforcement are almost immune to real criticism in the public sphere. Yes, we all need law enforcement from time to time. What we don’t need is a Providence police officer coming to my house after it gets robbed and telling me to my face that if voters don’t put Buddy Cianci in the mayor’s office next month, the animals are going to take over the city. We can have policing without fascism, beatings of protestors, and mass deportations of peaceful people. But we may not get that with the police as presently constructed. There also needs to be a lot more deep diving into the salting of police forces with white supremacists, which is something I hear a lot of rumors about but haven’t seen anything real solid.