Mr. Kroll, who has warned of a rush to judgment against the officer who kneeled for more than eight minutes on George Floyd’s neck, does not represent all police. But he does give voice to a considerable number who deeply resented President Barack Obama’s efforts to nudge the nation’s 18,000 police departments toward modest reforms that, had they taken root more broadly, might have strengthened the bonds officers need to serve their communities — and that citizens need to feel safe.
Those Obama-era reforms have been systematically rolled back by the Trump administration, which in the process has signaled that it will not concern itself too greatly if police push to, and beyond, the limits. When Mr. Trump on Monday demanded that governors “dominate” protesters and rioters, it was in line with the “rough” tactics he admires and his recommendation that officers should not be “too nice” when arresting suspects.
By contrast, a task force appointed by Mr. Obama urged that police assume roles not as “warriors” but as “guardians.” In that spirit, his administration restricted supplies of surplus military equipment to police forces and, through the courts, pursued consent decrees requiring broad reforms for departments where abuses had been systematic.
Despite those initiatives, Mr. Obama was only beginning to advance his policing task force’s recommendations, which included stricter rules against racial profiling; federal policies to encourage more diverse police hiring; independent investigations and prosecutions for officer-involved deaths; and more published information from departments detailing detentions, arrests and crimes, broken down by demographics.
To Mr. Trump, those recommendations, and Mr. Obama’s actual policies, amounted to a “war on police.” His administration has reinstated the supply of military equipment to police and distanced itself from consent decrees. The Trump White House has also turned a blind eye to the systemic racism most African Americans believe, and studies confirm, they confront in dealing with police; according to Robert C. O’Brien, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, it does not even exist.
Mr. Trump’s dog whistles and bullhorn blasts help ensure that police will remain unaccountable — rarely indicted when they kill unarmed people; frequently cleared when they are disciplined; often reinstated when they are fired for misconduct. They suggest there will be no change in racial profiling or unjustified officer-involved killings. Having torn up his predecessor’s blueprint, Mr. Trump now has nothing to offer — no prescriptions, no healing and no vision beyond a status quo many Americans abhor. In reality, his slogans and impulses signal a disrespect for law, and path away from order.