Florida Cops and Racism: Just a few bad apples?

April 8th, 2015

Last week, three North Florida prison guards affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan were charged with conspiring to murder a black man after his release from the facility where they worked.

Last month, three Fort Lauderdale police officers were fired and a fourth resigned after an investigation found they had traded racist texts and videos featuring KKK images — and according to the internal affairs report, the producer of the videos apparently was “obsessed with the KKK.”

My white friend-in-denial would say that these are isolated cases, or at least anecdotal examples. But law enforcement experts will tell you that for most miscreants, the incident for which they are arrested is rarely the first time they have committed the offense. And so it is with Florida’s law enforcement officers and racism.

Here are a few examples from the very recent past.

  • Last summer, in Fruitland Park, just north of Orlando, an investigation linked two members of the police department to the KKK. One of them was fired. The other, who was the deputy chief, resigned.
  • That case followed a similar one in 2009 in the same police department which ended with another resignation by an officer who admitted that he was, in fact, a KKK “district Kleagle.”
  • In late December of 2009, a detention officer with the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office was fired after it was determined that he was a member of the United Northern and Southern Knights of the Ku Klux Klan — whose Imperial Wizard actually told a reporter covering the story that a number of his members are cops.

That’s five documented Klan-cop connected cases in Florida in about five years – all easily found on line, within a matter of minutes.

And that’s only cases that involve the Klan per se.

The long litany of Florida cases that have led to questions about cops and racism extend from the beating death of Arthur McDuffie in Miami in 1979 to the mishandling of the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012.

As the daughter of a career law enforcement officer who served 24 years as a Special Agent with the FBI and 10 as chief of an elite municipal police department, I know something about cops. They filled our home at holiday barbecues and birthday parties. Daddy taught legions of them as the state’s first instructor of the FBI’s National Academy program, which introduced professionalism to “bubba” departments in backwater towns across Florida in the 1960s. Ignoring his fatherly advice, I even dated a few of them.

Like most manifestations of racism, its presence in law enforcement is complex, pervasive and systemic. It cannot be expunged easily or quickly; but the first, very difficult step is to admit that there is a problem.

Something is wrong here — and the leaders of law enforcement organizations like the Florida Sheriffs Association, the Florida Police Chiefs Association, and the several unions that represent the rank and file officers have a duty to recognize it, and begin to correct it.

A good start would be to change the policy that allows officers like those involved in the cases cited here to keep their state-issued licenses after losing their jobs, and be hired by other departments.

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