President Biden nominates gay BLM supporting officer to lead Customs and Border Protection

On Monday, President Joe Biden announced that he has nominated Police Chief Chris Magnus of Tucson, Arizona, a gay man and supporter of Black Lives Matter who advocates for progressive policing policies, as commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, according to The Advocate.

Magnus became Police Chief of Tucson in 2016 after serving as Police Chief in both Richmond, California and Fargo, North Dakota. When he was serving as chief in the San Francisco Bay area, where Richmond is located, he was criticized by the police union after he was photographed holding a Black Lives Matter sign during the Michael Brown protests in 2014. In response to the criticism, The New York Times quoted Magnus as saying that “he would do it again.” 

In a White House press release, it is stated that in all of the cities where Magnus has worked, “He developed a reputation as a progressive police leader who focused on relationship-building between the police and community, implementing evidence-based best practices, promoting reform, and insisting on police accountability.” Violent crime in Richmond was reported to have decreased significantly during his time in the Bay Area. 

In 2017, Magnus wrote a New York Times op-ed where he denounced Donald Trump’s ridiculous immigration policies, while also criticizing former Attorney General Jeff Sessions stating: “The harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric and Mr. Sessions’s reckless policies ignore a basic reality known by most good cops and prosecutors.” 

He continues: “If people are afraid of the police, if they fear they may become separated from their families or harshly interrogated based on their immigration status, they won’t report crimes or come forward as witnesses.”

Police Chief Chris Magnus. Photo courtesy of the City of Tucson

Although Magnus has been outspoken about many of the right things, his career has definitely not been without its share of controversy. He has been criticized by those on the far right for being too radical and progressive, while simultaneously being criticized by the far left for not being radical enough. 

Many have questioned his authenticity after an incident in Tucson last year in which it took two months for the Tucson police department to release body-camera video of a 27-year-old Latinx man, Carlos Ingram, who died in police custody.

Alba Jaramillo, the leader of  Arizona Justice for Our Neighbors, a Tucson-based immigrant rights group, spoke to the Times stating: “There’s an entire culture of secrecy, lack of transparency, of cruelty, within the Border Patrol. Having someone lead that agency from our own community who has not been transparent is very problematic.” 

At the time, Magnus apologized for the delay in releasing the body camera footage and offered to resign as police chief, but his resignation was not accepted by city officials.

Another incident dates back to 2012, when a group of Black officers in Richmond sued Magnus’s department, accusing them of racial discrimination. However, the allegations were found to be without merit by the jury. 

In 2015, a wrongful termination suit was also bought up against the city of Richmond, but was later settled. The suit involved an officer who claimed that Magnus had used racial slurs against him and also sexually harassed him. The Times states that Magnus dismissed the claims as “entirely bogus.”

“There were still people at that time who felt I’m an easier target because I’m a gay man,” Magnus told the Times. “That’s not the first time in my career I’ve experienced that.”

Magnus goes on to say in the same interview: “I like a challenge. I genuinely care. I think I want to be able to demonstrate humanity and empathy when approaching these programs. But I try hard to demonstrate an intellectual humility. It’s a fancy way of saying, ‘I guess I have a lot to learn from other people.’”

Despite the controversy, Magnus’s nomination has garnered considerable praise from many political leaders and critics. 

Gil Kerlikowske, who headed Customs and Border Protection during President Barack Obama’s second term, told the Post: “He’s a strong leader, thoughtful and quiet, which is exactly what CBP needs. I couldn’t be happier for the organization.”

Magnus is the husband of Terrance Cheung, the former chief of staff to Richmond’s mayor, and is said to be the first police chief of Richmond to enter into a same-sex marriage. Once confirmed, Magnus will become the first out LGBTQ+ person to lead Customs and Border Protection, which operates under the Department of Homeland Security. 

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