Investigations will inevitably be conducted by a predominantly white workforce – 74% of FBI employees are white, according to the Office of Personnel Management. And only 4.7% of the FBI’s 13,500 special agents identify as black or African-American, according to the agency.
McMillion insists the racial makeup of investigative teams will not affect the outcome, but he acknowledges that stronger relationships with communities of color are only possible if the FBI diversifies.
“It’s good to have diversity in the ranks because it brings confidence,” said McMillion. “But these agents who show up, no matter what they look like or whatever their race or ethnicity, they’re going to do the best job, they’re going to follow the process and the facts that get us where the evidence is. . “
Black communities, in particular, have historically viewed the FBI with suspicion, and the strained relationship is punctuated by the FBI’s counterintelligence surveillance of prominent civil rights leaders in the 1950s and 1960s, most notably Martin Luther King Jr. .
“We own the mistakes and even the things of the past that have happened,” McMillion said. “We don’t stay away from this or that, we recognize that. And the bottom line is, we’re going to do better.”
McMillion officially became director of diversity on May 4, moving from the Columbia, South Carolina field office to the FBI headquarters in Washington, where he was the deputy special agent in charge. McMillion’s primary mission so far has been to foster community outreach and to remind people in communities of color that the FBI needs people like them. Under McMillion’s leadership, the FBI has targeted potential minority candidates via social media, organized community engagement events in cities like Chicago, and reached out to women’s organizations.
“We are reaching out to underserved communities who have never considered the FBI for a career or a job,” McMillion said. “This community engagement speaks volumes, especially when we go to certain communities to say that we are actually looking for people like them to serve in the FBI because we know that gives us credibility.”
McMillion began his FBI career in 1998 as a special agent in Omaha, Nebraska, where he says he was the only black agent in all of Nebraska as well as the neighboring state of Iowa.
“But I didn’t feel isolated,” McMillion said. “I felt the compliment of other people across the country as well as my cohorts in the office who made me feel welcome even as a black man.”
This sentiment is not often shared by the small percentage of black special agents working for the FBI each year.
“I often felt lonely,” said Eric Jackson, a retired special agent in charge of the FBI field office in Dallas.
Jackson was the only black special agent in training in his FBI Academy class in 1997. When he began working in his first field office in Tampa, Fla., He was mentored by James Barrow, who told his own story of being one of the first African Americans to join the FBI.
“It made me think, to think that there are people who have been through a lot before me and that they survived, and that I was going to survive,” Jackson said in a video released by the FBI. several years ago celebrating “100 Years of African American Special Agents.”
But Jackson is concerned about the numbers; he says the percentage of black special agents has declined in recent years. “The number of black agents has never exceeded 6%,” Jackson said. “It should be for everyone, especially when our population is between 12 and 14%.”
In fact, according to the Office of Personnel Management, the percentage of black or African American employees in the FBI has increased from 12% in 2016 to 10.7% in 2021. However, the overall representation of minorities in the FBI has declined. slightly improved over the past five years. years, from around 24.4% in 2016 to around 25.8% in 2021.
Jackson is now co-chair of the MIRROR Project, an organization of retired black special agents who voice their concerns about diversity to top FBI executives.
“We should be like the community we serve,” Jackson said. “As a black special agent in charge of the 12th FBI Division, I was able to enter communities that didn’t want anything to do with law enforcement. But they wanted to hear what the first black special agent was doing. in charge of the Dallas division had to say, so they gave me a chance. It’s really important. If you have a diverse workforce, you are able to serve the diverse community. ”
Members of the MIRROR project say they have met Wray at least twice in the past few months, and they broadly applaud the creation of the position of Director of Diversity.
“We put a lot of pressure on the FBI,” Jackson said. “And I can tell you that there have been collegiate meetings to more tense ones, but without a shadow of a doubt, they take this seriously.”
Jackson and others within the MIRROR project, however, are not happy with the way the post has been structured. McMillion responds to Associate Assistant Director Jeffrey Sallet and has no direct line to Wray.
“We believe that by not having this position of direct access to the FBI Director, things will be screened before they get to the Director of the FBI,” Jackson said. “You run the risk of seeing this job fail or being marginalized when different leadership is brought in. ”
Rhonda Glover Reese, a former black special agent who retired in 2018 after 34 years, put it much more bluntly.
“Her role right now has no juice,” Reese said. “He has to be there with the director.”
McMillion, however, said he’s happy with the way his role is positioned and the access he’s getting.
“When you look at where I report, who is the associate assistant director, it’s just two levels below the director,” McMillion said. “The director cannot be everywhere at the same time. And so [the associate deputy director] reports directly to the manager, so I have this streamlined approach directly for him. ”
Desire for Wray to express himself
Members of Project MIRROR also expressed frustration that Wray did not make a more public statement pledging a commitment to diversity to the FBI. Wray broached the subject at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in March, dismissing the premise that the FBI is a “systematically racist institution” when questioned by Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana. Wray also acknowledged that the FBI needs to improve its hiring practices.
“I think the FBI needs to be more diverse and more inclusive than it is, and we need to work a lot harder for it and we try to work a lot harder for it,” Wray said.
Some members of the MIRROR project say they want a stronger statement from Wray, especially now that McMillion has taken over as director of diversity.
“We just didn’t hear a thing,” Reese said. “We urged the manager to issue some sort of statement to make sure the base and all employees know this new position is important.”
Wray released a statement announcing the hiring of McMillion in April, stating: “Scott is the right person to ensure that the FBI fosters a culture of diversity and inclusion, and that our workforce reflects all communities we serve. ”
But Michael Mason, who is also a member of Project MIRROR and eventually rose to the rank of Deputy Executive Director at FBI Headquarters before retiring in 2007, says there is more Wray needs to do.
“I would definitely like to see him personally commit to diversifying the FBI,” Mason said. “He should say he intends to leave the FBI more diverse than he was when he arrived.”
McMillion responded to the concerns, defending Wray’s commitment to diversity.
“Senior FBI leadership, including Director Wray, is very personally committed to the mission of diversity, equity and inclusion,” said McMillion. “Director Wray takes every opportunity he can to support and recognize diversity, especially within the internal workforce, and whenever he goes outside.”
The FBI points to statistics that show signs of improvement. The number of minority special agent applications has recently increased, with minorities accounting for 47% of applicants in fiscal year 2021. Additionally, the office notes that the percentage of new black agents trained at its Quantico academy over the past years. six years has doubled from 4% in fiscal 2014 to 8% in fiscal 2020.
Wray has also appointed minorities and women to several high-level positions at FBI headquarters and in prominent field offices. Four new minority or female assistant executive directors have recently been appointed to oversee the divisions at headquarters: Larissa Knapp, an Asian American who oversees the human resources branch; Mo Myers, a black man who oversees the intelligence branch; Brian Turner, a black man who oversees the Crime, Cybersecurity, Response and Services Branch; and Jill Sanborn, a woman who oversees the National Security Directorate.
In total, 10% of senior FBI executives are black, according to the FBI. Wray also promoted Emmerson Buie Jr. in September 2019 to become the first black agent to lead the FBI field office in Chicago, and 17 of the special agents in charge of the FBI’s 56 field offices are minorities.
The slow shift to incorporate more minorities into the FBI is unlikely to have an immediate impact on civil rights investigations moving forward after the wave of recent police shootings. But the recently renewed focus on diversity could strengthen community support and cooperation with the FBI in the future. Jackson says it’s about gaining the long-term trust of minority communities.
“When I became an FBI agent and raised my hand, it was to protect this great nation from enemies, both foreign and domestic,” Jackson said. “To be able to do that, you not only have to reach out to the community, but you have to earn the trust of the community. If the community doesn’t trust you, they won’t bring their problems to you, they” You are not going to consider your motivations as honorable. They will question you. Mostly people from the black community. They question the police at all levels, in all agencies. “
McMillion stressed that the relatively low percentage of black agents currently in the FBI will not affect federal investigations into police conduct, but that statistics underscore the importance of his new mission.
“It’s good to have diversity in the ranks because it brings confidence,” said McMillion. “But I want to make sure people know that no matter who runs into the ranks of the FBI, they will do the best job for the community they serve because that’s what they swore to do.”