Violence in our cities: The FBI must reassure America that it's investigating

Violence in our cities: The FBI must reassure America that it's investigating
© Getty Images

There’s a growing sense in America right now that you can do bad stuff and get away with it. A mounting fear persists that the systems we’ve put in place to keep us safe and secure, and the people we’ve charged to run them, are failing us. Frightening scenes are playing out hourly on the screens we have at our fingertips. Worse, there is a vacuum of leadership that no one is adequately filling.

There is no excuse for allowing violence to continue on the scale we are seeing in major U.S. cities. The laws that we the people have put in place are clear: There is no moral equivocation available in the face of violence and destruction. Criminal violence never equals justice.  Peaceful protest is by nature political and there is no role for law enforcement involvement or interest. But once the first rock is cast, law enforcement is compelled to keep order and safety regardless of the underlying issues.  

And yet, law enforcement — perhaps more than ever before — is being manipulated by political forces in direct contravention of its mission to protect and serve with absolute impartiality. When political leadership in a city restrains police enforcement activity because their own sympathies align with rioters, then we enter a constitutionally perilous environment that must be rectified by higher authorities.

ADVERTISEMENT

Principles of subsidiarity and federalism normally defer to local control and peacekeeping. But when there is a conscious decision by local authorities to withdraw or restrain police protections from the populace because of certain political preferences, then federal authority should be exercised to protect the constitutional rights of the local citizenry. The normal legal courtesy of awaiting an invitation from local jurisdictions to intervene seems moot if that jurisdiction is actively tolerating the violence in the first place. If the federal government had waited for an invitation from southern Democrats decades ago, integration of schools, restaurants, and access to the polls would have come much later for Black Americans. 

The time to act against this summer’s urban violence is past due. One senses that America today is more inclined to say “enough is enough” than it was even a month ago. Original empathy for issues of racial and social justice has been mocked by cadres of traveling riot mercenaries spewing their hatred for a free and capitalist America while setting fires, vandalizing, and now beating and killing people in the streets. Even their top cover from leftist media and politicians is beginning to erode. Now they’re seen with increasing clarity as common thugs who must be stopped.  

Two things need to happen. First, the violence must be quelled immediately — zero tolerance, no waiting for “invitations” from sympathetic mayors that likely won’t come. Second, those organizing and committing the violence must be arrested, held accountable, and jailed for a significant amount of time. At present, there is a frustrating lack of certainty that any of this will occur.

Activist prosecutors in some of these cities have already signaled they will not pursue charges and are quickly releasing violent offenders. It’s becoming clear that this urban violence likely will not end unless the federal government steps in and takes control.

So far, federal efforts have been tepid. Federal intervention has been spotty, despite positive results where applied, and only vague allusions have been made by the current administration that criminal investigations of the bad actors are under way. Frankly, Americans need and deserve a much greater degree of assurance.

ADVERTISEMENT

It is not a question of capability. The FBI could dismantle antifa left-handed, arresting its organizers and leaders and exposing its funding support without wearing sweatbands. It would be a chip shot, a lay-up. There is hard work involved, but antifa is certainly no more formidable than the hundreds of other drug-gang or terrorist or organized crime families that the FBI has crushed over the past 40 years.  

In fact, the rent-a-rioter antifa cogs, with their depth of criminal street smarts limited to the last video game they played, should be easier to bring to justice. The powerful Interstate Travel in Aid of Racketeering (ITAR) and Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) federal statutes that the FBI could deploy would take discretion away from feckless local prosecutors and ensure deterrent prison sentences for all involved. Antifa would cease to exist in any meaningful way. The FBI knows how to do this.

No, the question isn’t capability; it’s will. As a former FBI agent, I find this a painful question to raise. Regular agents to this day are dedicated to a blind pursuit of justice, regardless of political dynamics. But the politicized charlatans who led the FBI for a time, and misused its authorities for biased purposes, have left behind a deficit of trust with the American people that must be acknowledged and overcome.

Now is the time for confident reassurance by the FBI that it never again will be swayed by partisan winds, and it will diligently pursue those who are attacking our cities and fellow citizens. While it is a default setting within the FBI not to comment on ongoing investigations, that temptation should be set aside, especially now. The FBI at times will break tradition and forcefully comment when they believe it’s important. For example, whenever a racially motivated hate crime is committed, the FBI, rightly and immediately, announces its strong involvement. This is a conscious decision by the FBI to reassure the public that such horrific events are being properly addressed. These violent and upsetting riots require no less transparency from the bureau.  

Fundamentally, we want to know that bad people doing bad things aren’t going to get away with it. Former FBI leadership absolved or ignored some bad actors in the 2016 election investigations while pursuing other individuals without evidence of wrongdoing — all because of political affiliations. Today’s FBI, freed from those culprits but saddled with their dismal legacy, has an important opportunity to regain lost trust and assure America that it can, and will, do what it does best to the violent among us.  

FBI, tell us you got this.

Kevin R. Brock, former assistant director of intelligence for the FBI, was an FBI special agent for 24 years and principal deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). He independently consults with private companies and public-safety agencies on strategic mission technologies.