Black Lives Matter

White Deputy Stripped Black People of Voting Rights — Charged Them With Fake Felonies

White supremacists infiltrated law enforcement. Now what?

Photo Credit | Amanda Lucier / for NBC News

Former Georgia Deputy Cody Griggers bragged in text messages about abusing his authority. “I’m going to charge them with whatever felonies I can to take away their ability to vote,” he wrote. The idea of an officer joyfully placing false charges on Black people is terrifying. Police officers wield an enormous amount of power over the communities they serve. Griggers’ statement shows how dangerous this position becomes when held by White supremacists.

He bragged about beating a Black man he had in custody. Showing no remorse whatsoever, he said it gave him “sweet stress relief.” At least that’s what he claimed when speaking with other extremists online, per the local newspaper, the Belleville News Democrat. The sheriff doubts this event took place. According to prosecutors, the former deputy “expressed views consistent with racially motivated violent extremism, including racial slurs.”

I beat the (expletive) out of a (racial slur) Saturday. (Expletive) tried to steal (a gun magazine) from the local gun store. … Sheriff’s dept. said it looked like he fell,” the affidavit noted, quoting Griggers.” (Belleville News Democrat )

The FBI began investigating Griggers because of his ties to illegal guns. They followed breadcrumbs from discussions held on Facebook. Investigators uncovered a network of White supremacists making plans. Griggers discussed “killing liberal politicians.” In text messages, he said he was gathering and making “illegal firearms and explosives.” And while Griggers lost his job last November, his activities are only a drop in the bucket.

“In 2006, the FBI warned in writing that white supremacists seek to infiltrate law enforcement, and its 2015 Counterterrorism Policy Guide instructed agents conducting domestic terrorism investigations of white supremacists and far-right militias to modify their tactics because the subjects of these investigations often have ‘active links’ to law enforcement German said.” — ABC News.

White supremacists infiltrate law enforcement agencies because of the power of these roles. They want to enact racist practices in broad day instead of in the shadows. In many cases, society treats officers as if they are beyond reproach. Blindly trusting authority figures makes it nearly impossible to hold them accountable.

On the flip side, criminalizing Black people is an American pastime. Driving while Black is risky business because of systemic racism. Officers like Griggers are still on police forces all over the country. Some are operating with the assumption that Black people are inherently criminal. And when removed from their own departments, these people often swiftly get hired by the department down the road. White people have often blamed Black people for crimes they themselves committed. According to experts, they do this because “they can get away with it.”

White supremacists use society’s distrust and disdain for Black people as a tool to shield their misdeeds. When activists fight for structural reform, they often hear a common refrain: “Not all officers abuse their position.” This is a true statement, but it is also misleading. The stipulation that some officers are good fails to consider the value of each human life. If Black Lives Matter, society cannot accept sacrificing some. Officers who delight in calling themselves good should consider that their goodness cannot make up for the cruelty of others.

One Black man in every thousand can expect to die after a police interaction. You wouldn’t go to a dentist’s office where one out of every thousand died. Likewise, you wouldn’t eat at McDonald’s if one out of every thousand died. It would be better to eat somewhere else, even if you did fall in love with the Big Mac. The problem with American policing is that Black people cannot escape. They cannot take their business elsewhere.

When an officer pulls over a Black person, society expects the Black person to comply. However, we do not know whether the officer is an upstanding citizen doing their job or a cold-blooded racist. That’s what makes the “death loop” an insidious element of American culture. Imagine being asked to sit quietly and wait for your hamburger while you have a one in a thousand chance of dying from it.

“Domestic extremists increasingly targeted the military, police, and other government agencies — putting security agencies in the crosshairs of domestic extremists,” writes the Washington D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

For years, Black police officers who worked at the U.S. Capitol warned about supremacists in their ranks. They filed hundreds of complaints. Their White fellow officers dropped the n-bomb freely and expressed extremist views. One Black female officer said: “Congress turned a blind eye to racism on the hill.” Changing the system from the inside isn’t as easy as some may think.

According to a report by the Brennan Center, police departments don’t typically discipline officers unless complaints become public. Communities become aware of transgressions through social and mainstream media. Transparency is the preamble of accountability. But when those levers fail, police departments have free reign to act how they see fit.

Few law enforcement agencies have policies that specifically prohibit affiliating with white supremacist groups,” writes the Brennan Center for Justice

To address this problem, Minnesota’s police oversight board voted to ban White supremacists from their ranks. By rooting out extremists, they may provide safer service. Yet, White supremacist groups are constantly evolving. They could start hiding their affiliation with these groups to join law enforcement agencies. Nevertheless, it shows a good-faith effort by Minnesota officials. It’s an effort we haven’t seen on the national level.

Griggers did not want Black people to vote. He was willing to abuse his authority to block access to the ballot box. White people can remove their political stickers from their cars to avoid harassment. But, Black people are not chameleons. We cannot hide our race from officers before getting pulled over.

One Georgia officer got caught on camera saying, “We only kill Black people,” in 2017. Sure, the department let the officer go. However, it doesn’t change the fact that extremist views put citizens in danger. Every Black person that dies from police brutality isn’t a victim of implicit bias. In some instances, violent White nationalists specifically join law enforcement with the sole purpose of hurting Black people and marginalized groups. That’s the difficult truth.

Americans need police departments to follow in Minnesota’s footsteps. In the absence of federal legislation or policies, police departments are making staffing decisions on a case-to-case basis. But should we accept that some departments don’t want to kick men like Griggers off the force? I don’t think so, not if their goal is to serve and protect. And not if Black Lives Matter.

Essayist, Poet, Activist, and Scholar, EIC of CULTURED, Founder of #WEOC, with bylines at Momentum & ZORA ♥︎

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