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What Progressives Should Demand From the FBI

By       Message Richard (RJ) Eskow       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink

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Reprinted from ourfuture.org

Many Americans are rightfully outraged at the firing of FBI Director James Comey, just as they were shocked at Comey's ability to influence political events. But what can we do about it?

A political movement should do more than just react to the day's events with outrage, although that's important. It should also offer the vision of a better world.

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Donald Trump will nominate the next FBI director. Barring something unexpected, his nominee will almost certainly be approved. But that doesn't mean the rest of us are powerless. We have the power to imagine a nation run on principles of economic and social justice. We can create a vision so compelling that it brings new people into politics, encourages more activism, and compels our political leaders to fight for it.

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That vision can, and should, include the FBI.

Special Agents Force

The idea of a progressive FBI may seem strange, even preposterous, given that agency's real-world history. But, as explained in part 1 of this two-part series, the Bureau was created along progressive principles in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt and Attorney General Charles Bonaparte.

Its initial work was progressive, too. The original agency, which was then called the "Special Agents Force," concentrated on investigating banking crimes, violations of antitrust law, peonage, which included debt servitude and misuse of prison labor, and land fraud. It also investigated people seeking citizenship.

That changed -- first, with the passage of the racist-inspired Mann Act, then with the political abuses and misdeeds of long-term director J. Edgar Hoover, and lastly with the political shifts of recent years.

Mission Creep

Today, the Bureau sees its mission in very different terms. The FBI's website lists its priorities in the following order: protect the United States from terrorist attack, stop foreign intelligence operations and espionage, end cyber-based attacks and high-technology crimes, fight public corruption at all levels, protect civil rights, combat transnational and other criminal organizations, fight white-collar crime, and combat major violent crime.

While all these objectives are worthwhile, it's a telling list. Protecting civil rights is more than halfway down the list. Fighting organized crime -- the mission that made the FBI famous -- is near the bottom. "White-collar crime," a category that includes the massive bank fraud that cost the economy trillions of dollars and once put 41 million American mortgages underwater, is second to last.

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Fighting Discrimination

Imagine an FBI whose priorities more closely reflected its progressive roots. An FBI that cared more about civil rights would make it a priority to end discriminatory law enforcement practices. According to a study by the Department of Justice, black motorists were three times likelier than whites to be searched during a traffic stop. During encounters with police, African Americans were twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force. Once in the court system, black defendants were six times as likely to be imprisoned.

Hanging over all these encounters is the risk of violent death.

In 1892, even before the Special Agents Force was created, police chiefs around the country created the Criminal Investigation Bureau as a central repository for information on criminals. It, too, was eventually folded into the FBI. Why isn't the FBI using its data management function to track the fatal police shootings of black men, women, and children around the country?

White Collars, White Terror

If our law enforcement system made it a priority to fight organized crime, it would pay more attention to the Wall Street bankers at institutions who laundered money for the Mexican drug cartels. They went free, while kids on the corner went to jail.

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Richard (RJ) Eskow is a former executive with experience in health care, benefits, and risk management, finance, and information technology. Richard worked for AIG and other insurance, risk management, and financial organizations. He was also a (more...)
 

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