I spent several years as a DS special agent and observed systemic racism even at the federal level. While most of my time was spent overseas doing meaningful work alongside some amazing people, the first three months of my long initial training was at the federal law enforcement training center in Brunswick, GA– coincidentally the very same town in which Ahmaud Arbery was killed. It was eye opening, and often not in a positive way.
That massive academy in southeast Georgia trains everyone from DS and the Secret Service and U.S. Marshals to the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Bureau of Prisons. It was all too common to hear horribly racist, anti-Semitic, sexist, and homophobic comments while in the chow hall, the gym, or most egregiously at the campus bar. If this was how some new recruits viewed the world, how could anyone expect them to behave impartially and fairly. Fairly young at the time with no prior experience in weapons or tactics, the advice given to me when I started was “keep your mouth closed and your head down.” That I did, although looking back, shamefully so.
When I finished training and made it to the field office, I thought I had escaped those types of officers. In DS, the average new hire had at least a Masters degree and fluency in a foreign language, not to mention had to pass rigorous interviews and assessments. Months into my first assignment we had a presentation from a Diplomat in Residence (DIR) – who spoke to our field office about the next generation of employees. She spoke of the Foreign Service reputation as “too male, Yale, and pale” and gave a fantastic rundown of diversity recruitment programs.
The following day while eating lunch after a law enforcement operation with about a half dozen new agents who had just graduated from BSAC, one expressed his disgust at the Ambassador’s remarks and more notably, referred to this Senior Foreign Service DIR as a “Black b****.” That wasn’t even the worst of what he said. I was horrified. His beliefs – spoken in a public restaurant in a major city – were blatantly racist and more troublesome, represented what I believed to be dangerous when held by someone carrying a gun and a badge. I walked out of the restaurant alone mid-meal shaking from what I heard but didn’t have the strength to confront him. I was ashamed that someone like that wore the same badge and swore the same oath in front of the Secretary of State as me.
I ultimately left law enforcement several years later for a better fit for my family. I worked with overwhelmingly good people, many whom I remain friends with and who have expressed their own horror and condemnation over these last few days. The best agents I know do not hesitate to confront the small cadre of morally repugnant bigots. These are the men and women who I still look up to, despite no longer working in their field.
An old friend sent me screenshots of a conversation that took place [recently] in a private Facebook group for DS agents. One agent called into question the troubling experiences of her African-American DS colleague, writing in rejection to his clearly-firsthand accounts “that’s strange because I’ve been in law enforcement for 20 years and never heard any of that from any of my sisters and brothers in blue.” When pressed on her naiveté, she doubled down with something so gross that I won’t even quote here but ask any of the hundreds of DS agents present on that social media page. She was appropriately shunned and humiliated by her bosses and peers for showing her true colors and will face the consequences, but anyone in law enforcement who pretends that systemic racism doesn’t exist should do the responsible thing and hand in your gun and badge now before your beliefs affect your actions. If colleagues had stood up to officers like Derek Chauvin, maybe it would have prevented a death.