On the campaign trail, Donald Trump cast himself as a law-and-order candidate who would always have the backs of local police, though he wouldn’t meddle in their affairs. On Friday, the White House website revealed that promise would be a pillar of his administration.
Under the heading, “Standing Up For Our Law Enforcement Community,” the Trump administration promised a reduction in violent crime, a border wall to keep out illegal immigrants and “more law enforcement, more community engagement, and more effective policing.” The administration hinted at a crackdown on protests — “Our job is not to make life more comfortable for the rioter, the looter, or the violent disrupter,” it said.
“It is the first duty of government to keep the innocent safe, and President Donald Trump will fight for the safety of every American, and especially those Americans who have not known safe neighborhoods for a very long time,” the administration said.
Trump has long taken a bleak view on crime in America, so his policy position on law enforcement should come as no real surprise. He used the phrase “American carnage” in his inaugural address.
The administration cited data in the online policy position that, while grounded in some fact, presents a somewhat misleading picture. It said that in 2015, homicides increased by 17 percent in America’s 50 largest cities. That is true, though lethal violence remains low by historical standards. The administration also said that killings in D.C. had risen by 50 percent. That might be true if comparing 2014, when D.C. had 105 homicides, with 2015, when D.C. had 162. But in 2016, the city had 135 homicides, down 17 percent from the previous year.
Some cities in recent years, including Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore and Charlotte, have seen protests and violence erupt after incidents of black men being killed at the hands of police. The Justice Department under President Barack Obama sent mediators to those cities to try to keep the peace. The Obama administration also aggressively investigated the police with systemic reviews of entire departments to address the root cause of conflict between law enforcement and residents. In the administration’s waning days, the Justice Department announced police reform agreements in Baltimore and Chicago.
Based on the Trump administration’s policy statement, that seems likely to change. The statement noted rioters, looters and disrupters, but it made no mention of people’s First Amendment rights to free speech. The only amendment it mentioned was the second, the right to bear arms.
“Supporting law enforcement means supporting our citizens’ ability to protect themselves,” the administration said. “We will uphold Americans’ Second Amendment rights at every level of our judicial system.”
At his confirmation hearing, U.S. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Trump’s pick to be the attorney general, notably declined to say that he would leave unchanged the legal agreements requiring changes at police departments like those in Baltimore and Chicago. But he did promise to enforce the agreements until they were modified.
Sessions will also face an early test in what to do with officers involved in the case of Eric Garner, the 43-year-old Staten Island man who died after being put in an apparent chokehold by a New York City officer. U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch authorized prosecutors to move forward in that case — potentially meaning officers could be charged — but did so too late in her tenure to produce an indictment.