Following weeks of national protests since the death of George Floyd, President Donald Trump has signed an executive order that he said would encourage better police practices. But he made no mention of the roiling national debate over racism spawned by police killings of black men and women.
Trump met privately with the families of several black Americans killed in interactions with police before his Rose Garden signing ceremony and said he grieved for the lives lost and families devastated. But then he quickly shifted his tone and devoted most of his public remarks to a need to respect and support the brave men and women in blue who police our streets and keep us safe.
He characterized the officers who have used excessive force as a tiny number of outliers among trustworthy police ranks. Reducing crime and raising standards are not opposite goals,” he said before signing the order Tuesday, flanked by police officials.
Trump and Republicans in Congress have been rushing to respond to the mass demonstrations against police brutality and racial prejudice that have raged for weeks across the country in response to the deaths of Floyd and other black Americans. Its a sudden shift that underscores how quickly the protests have changed the political conversation and pressured Washington to act.
But Trump, who has faced criticism for failing to acknowledge systemic racial bias and has advocated for rougher police treatment of suspects in the past, has continued to hold his law and order.
At the signing event, he railed against those who committed violence during the largely peaceful protests while hailing the vast majority of officers as selfless public servants.
Trump’s executive order would establish a database that tracks police officers with excessive use-of-force complaints in their records. Many officers who wind up involved in fatal incidents have long complaint histories, including Derek Chauvin, the white Minneapolis police officer who has been charged with murder in the death of Floyd.
Those records are often not made public, making it difficult to know if an officer has such a history. The order would also give police departments a financial incentive to adopt best practices and encourage co-responder programs, in which social workers join the police when they respond to nonviolent calls involving mental health, addiction, and homeless issues.
Trump said that, as part of the order, the use of chokeholds, which have become a symbol of police brutality, would be banned except if an officer’s life is at risk.
The order actually instructs the Justice Department to push local police departments to be certified by a reputable independent credentialing body; with use-of-force policies that prohibit the use of chokeholds, except when the use of deadly force is allowed by law. Chokeholds are already largely banned in police departments nationwide.
While Trump hailed his efforts as historic, Democrats and other critics said he didn’t go nearly far enough. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said, “One modest inadequate executive order will not make up for his decades of inflammatory rhetoric and his recent policies designed to roll back the progress that we’ve made in previous years.”
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the order falls sadly and seriously short of what is required to combat the epidemic of racial injustice and police brutality that is murdering hundreds of Black Americans.
Kristina Roth at Amnesty International USA said the order amounts to “a Band-Aid for a bullet wound.”
But Trump said others want to go too far. He framed his plan as an alternative to defunding the police movement to fully revamp departments that have emerged from the protests which he slammed as ‘radical’ and ‘dangerous’.