AFRICANGLOBE – For those who believe we have evolved into a post-racial society where hate groups are now part of our collective past, think again. Hate groups are flourishing across the nation and its members are seemingly everywhere – including local police departments. Two police officers with the Fruitland Park Police Department near Orlando, Florida are no longer with the department because they were linked to the Ku Klux Klan.
Deputy Chief David Borst resigned from the Fruitland Park Police Department on July 10, after it was alleged that he was affiliated with the KKK, the racist, hooded White supremacist terrorist group that terrorized African-Americans for decades with cross-burnings, fire-bombings and lynching, starting in the 1860s.(Borst, also the town’s fire chief, resigned that post, too.) After the state’s Department of Law Enforcement and the FBI conducted an initial probe, Police Officer George Hunnewell was also fired after it was alleged he, too, was associated with the KKK.
Shouldn’t police departments vet their officers more carefully? It seems to me that more thorough background checks would reveal hate groups in a person’s past. The FBI found out about Borst and Hunnewell. It can find out about others. Borst, a cop for more than 20 years, denied any involvement with the KKK. Still, the Florida State Attorney’s office is investigating all arrests that Borst and Hunnewell were associated with to determine if racial prejudice played a role in their policing.
In an odd twist, according to the Florida Sun Sentinel, Hunnewell claims he was working undercover to expose racism within his own department.
Hunnewell’s ex-wife Ann, formerly a secretary with Fruitland Park police, claimed she and her former husband were assigned to infiltrate the Klan undercover by befriending another officer alleged to be a Klansman,” according to the Sun Sentinel.
“They never told anyone and had no documentation for the operation, but insisted former police Chief Mark Isom could corroborate their story.”
Really? This story sounds shady at best. Consider this: The situation involving Borst and Hunnewell marks the second time in five years that Klansmen have been found in the Fruitland Park Police Department. In 2009, Officer James Elkins resigned after photographs showed him wearing in a white robe and hood, and he later admitted he was a leader of the local KKK.
“We cannot nor will we tolerate any philosophy that is inherently morally corrupt or one that espouses bigotry or any intolerance aimed at any groups or individuals because of their race, religion, ethnicity or gender,” City Manager Gary La Venia told reporters. “This city is diverse, tolerant, it’s a welcoming community.”
Given the disturbing pattern in the Fruitland Park Police Department, how many other closet KKK members are serving as police officers in departments down South – and across the country? According to The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups and hate crimes, there are currently 939 known hate groups operating across the country, including neo-Nazis, Klansmen, White nationalists, neo-Confederates, racist skinheads, border vigilantes and others. There are 58 hate groups in Florida alone, which is second in the nation behind California with 77.
Since 2000, according to The Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups has increased by 56 percent. The surge has been fueled by anger and fear over the nation’s ailing economy, an influx of non-White immigrants, and the diminishing White majority, as symbolized by the election of President Barack Obama, the nation’s first African-American president.
Florida Chief Deputy State Attorney Ric Ridgway told the Orlando Sentinel that the report contained “a lot of fairly substantial evidence that tends to support” Borst’s and Hunnewell’s Klan membership. But he added that it’s not illegal to belong to the KKK “even if you are the deputy chief.”
“It’s not a crime to hate people. It may be despicable, it may be immoral, but it’s not a crime,” he said.
At least one top cop in Fruitland Park, however, is playing down the controversy. “Since I’ve come here, I’ve been very, very hardcore and very strict on bringing this from the old culture into a new professional culture,” Police Chief Terry Isaacs told The Southern Poverty Law Center. “I’ve set strict guidelines as far as our ethics go, diversity training. I don’t allow any joking, any comments. I’m very strict on that. I was somewhat shocked. I did not expect that in 2014… We have not had a racial complaint since I’ve been here.”
Maybe not. But it’s hard to believe that a police chief who oversees a 12-man police department in a tiny town of 5,000 residents didn’t know that two of his officers were linked to the KKK.
Isaacs turned a blind eye — or he has terrible investigative skills.
In any case, it’s time to rid the nation’s police departments of racism, whether it comes wearing a hood and robe…or not.
What do you think?
By: Michael H. Cottman