The abrupt and suspiciously timeD termination of FBI Director James Comey left Washington in a state of panic, disarray and impending Constitutional crisis by week’s end.
There was as much anger as there was nervousness over perceived mismanagement of President Trump’s firing of Comey, along with mounting skepticism over its convenience on the heel of fresh Trump-Russia investigation disclosures.
“The President of the United States is a dangerous con artist,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn), during a hastily convened press conference of New York Congressional delegation Democrats in New York City last Wednesday in response to the Comey firing.
“His actions threaten the very fabric of our democracy,” he said. “We are in the midst of a constitutional crisis the likes of which have not been seen in this country since Richard Nixon and Watergate.”
But as Democrats lashed out at the administration and demanded the appointment of an independent special prosecutor, a larger and potentially more ominous question emerged among Black politicians and community organizers: who would be the next FBI Director?
“The FBI Director is tasked with investigating violations of civil and voting rights and enforcing the law when those happen,” said one Congressional aide speaking freely on condition on anonymity. “I’m kind of shuddering at the thought of a new Trump and [Attorney General Jeff] Sessions picked FBI Director who does the exact opposite of all that.”
The Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, arguably the most powerful law enforcement officer on the planet, has always had a very unique and tenuous relationship with the Black advocacy and political community. Academic descriptions of that relationship are actually kind – when the FBI’s name is mentioned in the annals of Black history, it is with a profound sense of trepidation and animus. For it was the FBI, for example, under the direction of aggressive historical figures such as J. Edgar Hoover, that engineered a number of nefarious surveillance and prosecutorial programs such as the infamous COINTELPRO which relentlessly targeted and imprisoned prominent Black activists, revolutionaries and outspoken critics of the U.S. government.
Given the Trump administration’s unapologetically open hostility towards the civil rights community, many observers and advocates are bracing for an FBI Director that could be, in many respects, the second coming of Hoover. Or, to many observers, much worse.
“We can expect it to be a horrible appointment,” says Melina Abdullah, one of the original founders of the Black Lives Matter movement and a professor and Chair of Africana Studies at California State University. “If we think about the way the administration has encouraged every unit of govt to go after Black organizers, we should expect the very worst.”
“I think it’s a matter of what we do, when we look at the pattern of appointments over the past several months and what’s coming down,” Abdullah tells The Tribune. “We know that every single appointment is a really horrible person. Every person in every position is the antithesis of what they’re supposed to do. The FBI Director will clearly be someone who pushes for injustice and the targeting of folks who are engaging in the democratic process.”
Independent hip hop artist and national Black Lives Matter-aligned activist Jasiri X, also expects a much harsher regime escalated by a Trump-driven director. Jasiri explains that recent movements have always been targeted by government law enforcement on all levels, even indicating that “it was already” happening under the Obama administration. In 2015, the FBI Deputy Director Mark Giuliano admitted the agency was tracking the movements of people protesting against police violence. Several activists in Cleveland claimed they were visited by FBI agents ahead of the 2016 Republican National Convention.
“A recent FBI internal report attempted to draw a connection between recent police killings and the Black Lives Matter movement’s critique of police brutality, despite the fact most assailants were white,” says Jasiri X. “With Sessions already calling for harsher sentences for non-violent drug offenses, and Trump revisiting the failed Stop and Frisk, we can only conclude the attacks on advocates will be more widespread and severe.”
Names under consideration that have surfaced don’t offer much comfort to observers and Trump critics watching the process unfold. Whispers in Washington point to controversial and rather cantankerous figures like former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Others include Former New York City police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who pushed for constant surveillance of Muslim activists and mosques after 9-11.
And everyone mentioned is a white male.
“We should be loud and say this is what’s happening and oppose it,” Abdullah said. “We have to do work and strategize around our own ways of operating. We have to be very clear that it’s a targeting of Black organizers and putting down the BLM. We have to say they are intimidating us out of the work we are doing.”