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September 29, 2020

Rep. Pressley Questions Experts on History and Prevalence of White Supremacy in Law Enforcement

Video (YouTube)

WASHINGTON – In a House Oversight Committee hearing today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) discussed the long history of white supremacy in our law enforcement, questioned experts on racist, white supremacist police trainings and called for more accountability.

In June, Congresswoman Pressley and Congressman Justin Amash (L-MI) introduced the Ending Qualified Immunity Act to eliminate the unjust doctrine of qualified immunity and restore Americans’ ability to obtain relief when state and local officials, including police officers, violate their legal and constitutionally secured rights.

A full transcript of her exchange with witnesses is below.

Transcript: Rep. Pressley Questions Experts on History and Prevalence of White Supremacy in Law Enforcement
House Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
September 29, 2020

REP. PRESSLEY: Thank you Chairman Raskin for convening this hearing.

I think it is worth repeating: history and the roots of policing are inextricably linked to the antebellum slave patrols of the South that led to the establishment of all-white police departments. And since the Fugitive Slave Act, criminal law enforcement has meant the subjugation and dehumanization of Black lives.

After the Civil War, police departments and local governments throughout the country were saturated with Ku Klux Klan members and sympathizers who refused to intervene in their campaign of terror. And by the early 20th century, the KKK had over a million members.

Mr. Meeink, given your experience with white supremacist groups, do you think that contemporary organizations have tried to continue this campaign of influence on law enforcement?

MR. MEEINK: Thank you for the question. Yes, ma’am. I believe that a lot of the old neo-Nazi groups have now become modern groups like the Proud Boys and a lot of those Proud Boys are filling and wanting to be police officers. They are now flying the cop flag at all their rallies and in their homes. So the Proud Boys, who used to be what I would consider–are the neo-Nazis of the early 90s and 80s, are planning to gear up to become law enforcement. That’s their now new goal, because they see that the damage they can do and get away with it. That’s why they want to join. They know that they can–the war on drugs as AOC said, the war on drugs and the treading on our Fourth Amendment allows bully cops to pull us from cars, and bring dogs around us, to search us, when we have not committed a crime. And we are the citizens and our civil servants should not be able to do that. I re-yield my time. 

REP. PRESSLEY: Thank you and it’s clear from the historical record that we cannot simply rely on “training” to address this problem. Across our country, racism is often ingrained in official and unofficial police trainings.

So take the case of Travis Yates.  After the Minneapolis mayor banned so-called “warrior training” for the city’s cops to reduce police violence, Yates offered to train Minneapolis police for free. And this summer, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis, Mr. Yates, a police officer in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was recorded saying that Tulsa police shoot African Americans “less than we probably ought to.” 

Then there is John Guandolo, an ex-FBI agent whom the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as a “notorious Muslim-basher and conspiracy theorist.” He has provided law enforcement trainings in at least seven states since leaving the FBI in 2008.

So Sergeant Taylor, have you heard of or had any experiences with these kinds of racist, violent trainings?  

SGT. TAYLOR: They do exist and the example that I use in my opening statement, that officer is a defensive tactics training officer and he trains another jurisdiction and after we complained on him, thank goodness they no longer used him to train other officers. So yes, he’s steeped in violent ideologies, racism towards African Americans, Muslims, you name it. And he trains other officers so that is present–it is very much present in law enforcement with and they’re allowed to fester and fester and fester and the policies allow that. 

REP. PRESSLEY: And might I also just add here for a moment, I appreciate the enthusiastic affirmation and support of the need to end qualified immunity. I have introduced a bill with Justin Amash to do that. To address the callous impunity and disregard for Black and brown lives. There can be no justice without accountability and there is no accountability for as long as we have that doctrine.

Mr. German, have you seen other instances where police training has emerged as a pressure point for spreading white supremacist views?

MR. GERMAN: I identify even in implicit bias training, which we expect to be the most comprehensive in anti-racism, I quote three separate trainers who say they specifically avoid mentioning explicit racism in law enforcement because they don’t want to offend their audience. That I think is a bigger part of the problem, it’s that by willingly turning a blind eye to this problem, we allow it to fester rather than taking it head on and making sure we understand that we can’t stop or correct implicit bias and unconscious bias if we don’t address overt and explicit bias. 

REP. PRESSLEY: And Professor Johnson, given the sequence of events that took place in Kenosha, Wisconsin, when Kyle Rittenhouse murdered and injured Black Lives Matter activists, can you give us your view–because I think history is so important–on the evolution of American law enforcement as a protector and ally of white supremacist groups?

PROF. JOHNSON: Your question illustrates how significant this history is. And in between the first police departments being organized to catch enslaved people, to the lynchings that took place for decades without any white people being held responsible by law enforcement, to a lot of the unrest that we saw in Los Angeles in the 90s and elsewhere, that this is something that is consolidated power within the state and it’s used against people of color and poor people in this country. 

REP. PRESSLEY: Thank you.

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