The apparently cozy relationship between an Oregon police lieutenant and the leader of a right-wing group has renewed unanswered questions about the infiltration of police departments by white supremacists.
On Tuesday, the Portland Police Commanding Officers Association filed a grievance against city officials for violating a contract provision that bars them from publicly reprimanding police supervisors, OregonLive.com reported.
Mayor Ted Wheeler called for an investigation last week into hundreds of text messages exchanged between Portland Police Lt. Jeffrey Niiya and Joey Gibson, the leader of the far-right group Patriot Prayer, which has organized violent demonstrations in the city.
Wheeler said he was disturbed by what he learned after reading an expose published by Willamette Week on Feb. 14. “Community members have long expressed concerns about police bias during demonstrations. Incidents like this contribute to the distrust that so many people have about the Portland Police Bureau,” he said in a statement.
Historically, police departments were an instrument to enforce segregation and other racist policies. It’s no wonder that the FBI has warned about ongoing relationships between white supremacists and police departments.
In October 2006, the FBI published a report titled “White Supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement,” in which the agency discussed the threat of white supremacist groups permeating police departments to hamper investigations and to recruit like-minded officers. It’s unclear whether police officials ever heeded the warning, PBS.org said a decade after the report was issued.
There is a lot of history at the root of the alliance between white supremacy and law enforcement. As part of its program to address racially biased law enforcement, the District of Columbia’s police department has sent officers to the African American History Museum to learn about that history.
“People who were supposed to serve and protect had played in the enforcement of discriminatory, racist and unjust policies and laws,” Police Chief Peter Newsham said standing outside the African American History Museum when the program was announced in 2018. “The museum includes very honest and poignant stories of the role that policing played in some of the historical injustices in our country.”
In Portland, Niiya’s texts and emails with Gibson show him sometimes telling Gibson about the movements of counter-protesters, going so far as to tell Gibson if officers would be on foot or bike at protests.
“It is imperative for law enforcement to remain objective and professional, and in my opinion, these text messages appear to cross several boundaries,” the mayor said.