On King, the FBI, and Dangerous Bodies


When I think about Federal law enforcement and local community policing relationships, my view is framed through the lens of history. Its not that I’ve adopted the “dont’t trust anyone over the age of 30” attitude, but rather its that I have come from a general attitude that a citizen “MUST question question authority, especially those that represent and uphold Democratic principles.”

And its not that law enforcement hasn’t changed, they have made strides. But to keep from falling into old patterns, repeating history, we have to be vigilant and cognizant of those in authority to rule and make decisions over us.

This is the same reason why I don’t appreciate MPAC’s initiative, Safe Communities. Especially given the complete disintegration between many police departments and communities of color, this MPAC initiative seems problematic framed in whats being asked to be done. In light of #blacklivesmatter, I was drawn back to that history as we march into Black History Month and celebrate MLK day.

The poignant picture of black bodies held in chains by government agents represneted in legal justifications of slavery to draconian criminal statutes most clearly sums up this historical conscience. And the relationship of law enforcement and King has all but been nuetured, made digestable for little kids to learn in elemantry school, all but sanitizing the white brutality toward black bodies and socity.

The following excerpt is from Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous, by Gabriella Coleman, and it does a good job of positing reality to todays fictional caricture of the past:

When King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963, William Cornelius Sullivan, associate director of the FBI, wrote to Hoover, “We must mark [King] now, if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this Nation from the standpoint of Communism, the Negro and national security.”

This would later come out as files upon stolen FBI files were leaked to the media, who get this, did their job and began associating the FBI’s directives challenging their policy and even airing public laundry like the FBI’s official stance toward King and other civil rights leaders. Coleman describes the program as,

COINTELPRO’s mandate was initially narrow: to disrupt the internal operations of the Communist Party USA, which Hoover believed to be under the direct influence of Russian infiltrators. Very quickly, its scope expanded to include the disruption of home-grown political activism of all varieties, including radical, conservative, and even moderate liberal efforts. One stated goal was to prevent the rise of a “messiah” who could unify, and electrify, the militant black nationalist movement. Malcolm X might have been such a “messiah”; he is the martyr of the movement today. Martin Luther King, Stokely Carmichael, and Elijah Muhammed all aspire to this position … King could be a very real contender for this position should he abandon his supposed “obedience” to “white, liberal doctrines” (nonviolence) and embrace black nationalism.

The sad reality about programs like Safe Communities is that there is history to this, MPAC was pushing LAPD’s unconstitutional Muslim Mapping initiative. The fact is that law enforcement, the people with the guns and the ability to take our rights away, perceive us dangerous bodies. Thats what Safe Communities reads like, a desire to legitimize vocabulary and modular language that justifies law enforcements perceptions of the community.

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