‘No Laughing Matter’: Police Brutality & Misconduct In The Age of Trump

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San Diego County Sheriff armed with batons & riot gear block peaceful protesters in El Cajon, California in 2016 following the fatal shooting of Alfred Olango by El Cajon Police officer Richard Gonsalves.

Out of Sight & Out of Mind

In the span of the past couple years, few issues in this country have managed to consistently capture the nation’s attention and ire quite like the epidemic of police brutality which continues to take place on a near daily basis from coast to coast within the United States. Like a unrelenting disease, police brutality is a blight upon our public institutions that seems to know no boundaries. To the point where practically every major city in this country is plagued by it’s presence in some form or fashion; often times committed in some of the poorest and most marginalized communities of our society. In some cities, such as St. Louis, Baltimore and Chicago police misconduct and systemic violence have reached levels so high that the Department of Justice itself has been brought in to conduct federal investigations into worst departments which operate within these cities and their communities. City to city, state to state, the names of victims who have been killed at the hands of police violence have become practically inescapable. Their faces a constant reminder of the deadly consequences of police brutality and impunity left unchecked by spineless, apathetic politicians and a emboldened power structure; which for decades has allowed cops free reign to commit some of the most heinous and vile crimes and abuses of power imaginable in neighborhoods all across the country. From Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Laquan McDonald, Tamir Rice, Fredie Grey, Walter Scott, Philando Castile, Terrence Crutcher, Alfred Olango, Jordan Edwards, Stephon Clark and countless others, one could literally page after page after page with the names of people who made national headlines because their lives were violently taken away after what began as benign encounters with law enforcement, only to be needlessly escalated into violent, deadly tragedies by the police.

However in 2018, unless you have been closely following specific stories, or perhaps work to advocate for police reform and accountability yourself, you’d Probably be hard pressed to recall the name of a single victim who has lost their life at the hands of police violence in the past year. That’s not to say that police brutality and misconduct, especially in minority and low income communities across the U.S. has magically abated or miraculously dwindled down to new lows in 2018. In fact, if anything research and hard data points to exactly the opposite taking place in this country. As of this publication, according to Mapping Police Violence, at least 852 people (a conservative figure which only includes known reported cases and doesn’t include in-custody deaths or those killed by off-duty law enforcement) in the U.S. have been killed by the police thus far in 2018 . The stark reality is, 2018 is likely on track to be one of the deadliest and most brutal years measured on record for police violence and brutally in the United States. Last year alone, there were no less than 1,147 killings by police occurred in 2017. So far setting the record on the most deaths recorded in a single year since data collection began in 2013. So if police violence and misconduct in this country has not only continued on unabated, but, if anything gotten considerably worse and poised to outpace any year on record, then why are we hearing so little or far less about about it than we have in the past? The answer, sadly, can almost assuredly be traced back to one individual; Donald Trump. Since kicking off his presidential campaign back in 2015 nothing has dominated the news media cycle more than Donald Trump. Like a fire raging out of control, the man seemingly sucks the oxygen out of any space he occupies. To a point where news media can’t help but cover every near daily outbursts and his latest triads, scandals and other buffoonery that unfortunately has become all too common place since taking the white house. From his defense of white supremacists at the deadly ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, Va. last year, to the implementation of a Muslim travel ban, his appointment of an accused rapist and sexual abuser to the Supreme Court, his unilateral attempts to dismantle DACA and his policy of separating and interning children from families of migrants seeking asylum at the U.S. border. There is no shortage of vile, despicable, nauseating policies, actions and comments that Trump has engaged in. Nor is there any low too low that he has stooped to in the past two years he has managed to occupy the white house.

Amidst this chaos, it seems that police killings, along with a myriad of other scandals and misdeeds that in the past would have garnered national attention, are now mere blips that hardly manage to register a response in the midst of a tsunami of Trump related coverage coming from the white house. However, one deeply disturbing pattern Trump has regularly engaged in that all too often is lost in the chaos and fly’s under the radar, is his frequent addresses to law enforcement. Specifically those at the local and state level where he celebrates violence and propagates other incendiary, dangerous fallacy riddled rhetoric in his speeches which he has consistently cultivated prior to and throughout the duration of his term. While the media has largely turned a blind eye to police violence and let this travesty go to wayside in terms of coverage in the wake of Trump’s election, the reality is little has changed on the ground. For many communities across the country police violence and misconduct is a constant never ending cycle which has relentlessly ravaged families, neighborhoods and entire cities. And with the dangerous, toxic rhetoric turned out by Trump on a near constant basis in regards to policing, relationships between the general public and the police are likely to only get worse before they begin to get any better.

 

Trump & the Culture War of Police Violence

Even before taking the white house in 2016, Trump routinely touted himself as the “law and order candidate” all throughout his entire presidential campaign. In fact, from practically the inception of his presidential bid Trump has looked to police as underdogs in which he can champion. A rallying counterpoint to set himself apart from his predecessor and then Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the eyes of his base and energize his most adamant supporters. However, as Trump has transitioned from the campaign trail and into his tenure in office his rhetoric in regards to critics of the police and those calling for more stringent oversight and accountability has continually grown more and more authoritarian and draconian in nature. In August of 2017, Trump made a series of dark, troubling statements before a crowd of hundreds of cheering cops in Long Island while addressing a group of law enforcement officials where he openly encouraged police officers to use excessive force and brutalize suspects when making arrests. During his speech Trump suggested that police without due process, rough up suspects while making arrests saying, “When you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just see them thrown in, rough, and I said, Please don’t be too nice — when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over? Like, don’t hit their head, and they’ve just killed somebody — don’t hit their head. I said, you can take the hand away, okay?” Now of course, while many police officials across the country decried Trump’s statements, some even vehemently distancing themselves in the wake, it’s impossible to ignore the palpable zeal and enthusiasm Trump managed to incite amongst a crowd of hundreds of cops cheering and applauding a sitting president for advocating violence against un-convicted suspects. Nor can one simply ignore those who did come to Trump’s defense and defend his abhorrent stance in the aftermath. Take for example Chuck Canterbury, the president of the National Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) the biggest police union in the country, who brushed off Trump’s irresponsible rhetoric in a public statement regarding the remarks saying, “Off the cuff comments are sometimes taken all too literally by the media and professional police critics”. Canterbury even went as far to say in the statement that, “There isn’t another politician out there today who empathizes with our members more than the president does”. It doesn’t surprise me that the president of the FOP, an entity that essentially serves as the biggest PR and cop apologist organization in the world lionizes Trump. The FOP already overwhelmingly endorsed Trump back in September of 2016 and raised Trump’s commitment to reverse an executive order by President Obama, limiting the transfer of surplus military equipment and weaponry to untrained and inexperienced local police departments under the 1033 program. However, it’s foolish to believe Canterbury speaks only for himself when he makes such comments and lauds such dangerous discourse, from the white house nonetheless. Trump’s toxic rhetoric regarding police doesn’t stop there either. Earlier this month, Trump was once again caught making troubling statements regarding policing, this time while at the International Association of Chiefs of Police Annual Convention in Orlando, Florida. During his speech at the convention, Trump urged the city of Chicago to “strongly consider stop and frisk” (policy which allowed police to stop any civilian on the street and search their person and belongings), saying ”It works and was meant for problems like Chicago”. Trump also tacked onto his remarks praise for former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who championed stop and frisk in the 1990’s saying, “When he was mayor of New York City, had a very strong program of stop and frisk and it went from an unacceptably dangerous city to one of the safest cities in the country and, I think, the safest big city in the country. So it works. Gotta be properly applied, but stop and frisk works”. Contrary to Trump’s statements, the practice has proven to be not only ineffective, but racially motivated and unconstitutional. In 2013, a U.S. District Court Judge ruled that ‘stop and frisk’ had been used in an unconstitutional manner and resulted in a federal order that mandated that the NYPD only stop someone if they have a reasonable suspicion that the person has committed, is committing or is about to commit a crime. To make matters worse, during the course of the same speech Trump also attempted to brand democrats as the “party of crime” (as if democrats themselves are not also largely shamelessly pro-cop, mass surveillance, war, impunity, cops in schools, mass incarceration, drug wars etc). Some statements Trump made include, “For too many years, we have watched politicians escalate political attacks on our courageous police officers and I’ve never seen it more than over the last few years — it’s disgraceful”. As well as, “Politicians who spread this dangerous anti-police sentiment make life easier for criminals and more dangerous for law-abiding citizens, and they also make it more dangerous for police, and it must stop, and it must stop now”. While Trump’s attempts to turn criminal justice reform and police oversight are disturbing to say the least; whats equally unsettling are the lies her perpetuates to achieve this goal. While police and law enforcement surrogates have exaggerated the threats they face and even fabricated dangers such as the so-called ‘Ferguson Effect’ for years in an attempt to derail even the most conservative police oversight proposals, we enter a new unsettling terrain where such shameless fear mongering is not only legitimized but, megaphoned from the white house.

Facts Still Matter

It is an understatement to say that Donald Trump is nothing short of a shameless, unapologetic, habitual serial liar. Since taking office, Trump has literally made thousands upon thousands of misleading or downright completely false statements while in office. Trump is almost seemingly incapable of going a single day without lying through his teeth. Lies have basis of some his most basic platforms and positions since the inception of his political career; so it’s only natural his deceitful, conniving nature would carry on in regards to his positions on policing. Trump’s stance is essentially a continuation of the debunked, yet ever persistent  ‘war on cops’ trope; which has repeatedly been used over and over again as a deflection against any criticism and condemnations from police reform movements in an attempt derail any discussions of implementing any true, meaningful police reform in the U.S. Never mind that the number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty dropped sharply in 2017. With 128 fatalities, 46 of those being feloniously killed and the overwhelming majority resulting from traffic incidents, other accidents or health conditions; with 2017 ultimately marking the second-lowest toll and second safest year for police in more than 50 years. Again, juxtapose this against the 1,147 people police killed throughout the course of 2017. Or, the fact that according to data compiled from the FBI database, of 511 officers feloniously killed in the U.S. between 2004 and 2013 of the total 540 offenders who committed the crimes a majority 52 percent were white. Again, a resounding rebuke that flies in the face of the ‘Black Identity’ extremist, criminal ‘illegal alien’ or latino gang member trope that is touted again by Trump and law enforcement officials as the main threats to officer and public safety.

When one actually takes a close look at the data it’s very easy to conclude that police pose a much greater threat to the general public, than the public does to them. And at that, the communities that law enforcement regularly demonize and stigmatize contribute considerably less of a threat than their white counterparts. This isn’t bias or spin; these are cold hard facts with the data and numbers to back them up. Of course, even before the era of Trumpian politics facts mattered very little to law enforcement or ring-wing pundits who follow suit. Like virtually all of Trump’s positions, his rhetoric is not rooted in tangible evidence, fact or any sort of real world reality whatsoever. Trump’s dangerous views on policing is simply the latest in a long line of right wing conservative grandstanding utilized to peddle fear and gain favor amongst his support base and just another one of his lies being continually pushed to mislead and misinform the public. At the end of the day Trump’s rhetoric is the continuation of a massive PR campaign carried out and championed by the police with the end goal of that campaign being to seduce the public into believing that the police cannot possibly provide security and safety in this country without racial profiling, massive civil-rights violations, and overly aggressive, disproportionate use of physical force all while disproportionately targeting communities of color. In essence, Trump has engaged in a disturbing and troubling precedent that police and special interest law enforcement groups have already cultivated for years; which is exaggerating and romanticizing the danger that cops face to a greater degree than what it actually really is. Trump’s rhetoric not only warps the public’s perception of the police and the danger they face but, perhaps even more dangerously it gives legitimacy to the warped perception of how police view themselves and the public that they are supposedly here to serve and protect. It’s not disturbing that Trump publicly is a staunch backer of the police. Every past president, yes EVEN Barrack Obama, has by in large fallen rank and file in staunch support of the police. Historically speaking, past presidents have said little to nothing in regards to addressing police violence and brutality, let alone condemning it in this country. And even one has had their hand forced to address the topic, normally after some wide scale protest or unrest any condemnations of the police that are issued (if any are made at all) are almost always tepid and lacking of any teeth at best. Trump’s blind allegiance and championing of the police is not an anomaly, quite frankly it’s to be expected. What is uniquely disturbing and dangerous about Trump’s rhetoric however, is his deliberate attempt to use fear mongering to paint a alternate reality where the police are not only a marginalized and persecuted minority by democrats, civil-rights advocates, criminal justice reformist and anyone else who dares question or make the slightest challenge to their authority but, likewise weaponize these lies to paint any form of police oversight of those that propose it as a enemy to ‘law and order’. Trump’s words and rhetoric, which are then in turn parroted and used as validation within law enforcement circles doesn’t just take place within a vacuum. This dangerous and patently false ideology has the potential to reap severe and very dire real world consequences. Especially when police are being prepped, groomed and conditioned to see the cities and communities they’re supposedly there to protect as being more dangerous than they really are; coming from the white house nonetheless. We step into extremely dangerous territory when we allow Trump and law enforcement to utilize fictionalized worldview as political leverage to further their own agenda in the hopes of muzzling and silencing voices from communities of color all throughout the country that are demanding true, hard-hitting and genuine police reform.

 

Convenient Allies

While Donald Trump talks a big game when lauding the police, by his own actions he cares very little about the police beyond their current political support. They are reliable voting demographic and the issue of police brutality and misconduct is a racial lightening rod which he regularly utilizes to energize a sizable, if not overwhelming majority of his support bases that feeds off his brazenly bigoted and increasingly authoritarian rhetoric. However, Trump’s actual policies speak a far different tone when set side by side to that of his incendiary rhetoric. While Trump loves to laud himself as the ‘law and order’ candidate, his own administration has proposed slashing funding for the Justice Department overall as well as millions in federal grants to state and local police departments that help support police hiring at the local level. Again, this cut in funding at both the federal and local level strikes quite a different tone that flies right in the face of the narrative that cops are a marginalized, persecuted segment of society. Likewise, it’s important to note that Trump’s praise of the police always comes with one sinister caveat. Whenever Trump talks about policing in the U.S., it is almost always paired in conjunction with shameless fear-mongering and blaring racial dog whistles in some form or fashion. Whether it’s castigating the Black Lives Matter Movement or ‘ungrateful’ NFL athletes such as Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid who kneel during the star spangled banner to protest police brutality and racial injustice. Or, perhaps championing the unconstitutional practice of stop-and-frisk policing as mentioned before, (only in Black and Brown communities of course). And then, there’s always his favorite penchant of broadly criminalizing Mexicans and Central Americans as criminals, rapists and gang members which he derides as ‘animals’. Or, if he’s in a particularly bad week, he’ll defer to the time honored political tactic of demonizing ordinary Muslim citizens as potential Islamic terrorist. Again, all while never once mentioning the fact that domestic far-right and white supremacist terrorist kill the overwhelming majority of people that are killed in attacks in the country. Not to mention the fact that white men also carry the overwhelming majority of mass shootings and are overwhelming responsible for the vast majority of police killings in the United States as well.

When all is said and done, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to pick up on the same consistent and deliberate patterns and tropes in which Trump engages in. Trump almost universally never praises the police unless it is at the expense of conversely criminalizing and scapegoating another marginalized or otherwise vulnerable minority or community that he knows his support base already hates. It is a deliberate and calculated move on Trump’s part to always pair these two together when discussing the police or lauding law enforcement. Like almost anything else with Trump, his support of the police ultimately ties back to the unbridled bigotry, racism and xenophobia that he regularly cultivates and harvests within the ranks of his supporters. To his base, the police are the proverbial white knights who are there to beat, maim, harass and ultimately suppress anyone that they feel threatened by or believe does not belong or fit within their own warped, idealized framework of what they believe this country should look like and Donald Trump will somehow restore, i.e. ‘make america great again’. In this narrative, Trump not only makes the police to be persecuted underdogs which he can use as one of his rallying points to energize and invigorate his base; but likewise make them out to be the sole defenders against nonexistent, imaginary threats he blames on groups that he regularly castigates and demonizes. The end result being Trump gets to use the police as a political pawns, who are rewarded with a constantly rotating roster of nonexistent threats and boogiemen both Trump and the police can default on whenever criticism is levied against them.

Confronting Lies & the Realities of Police Brutality

In short, contrary to all the chest pounding, teeth gnashing and fear mongering, touted by Trump and his support base, the police are not a marginalized group. They simply are not, and to suggest that they even remotely are is nothing short of a ugly, bold faced lie. If anything they are endowed by society and armed to the teeth by the state with more privileges, protections and power than the rest of the general public could ever imagine or dream of. Police are not a marginalized minority or disenfranchised in manner whatsoever. To the contrary, they are a protected class, frequently operating with complete disregard outside and above the law. And Trump’s attempts to misconstrues police as a vulnerable minority, under systemic attack facing special danger is simply just not true. In fact, nothing could possibly be farther from the truth. Cops do not need less oversight, in fact by what we’ve seen documented by thousands of everyday citizens over the past several years it’s that if anything there has never been a more dire need for more stringent oversight, deep sweeping police reform as well as harsher punishments and sentences levied against police officers who abuse their authority and break the law. The tepid response from the Obama administration hardly remedied little grievances were actually seriously addressed at the federal level, and what small marginal victories were made under that administration are already being rolled back by a archaic, authoritarian Trump administration which seems hell bent on taking the country back to a pre-civil rights era style of policing in this nation. I will say an unpopular opinion that even some of the staunchest police reform advocates may bristle at. Simply put, the police have far too many protections. Plain and simple. Time and time again we are affirmed that police officers, while in title and theory are public servants; in practice they are in fact a special protected class under the current definitions of our nation’s laws. Police are already by far the the most heavily protected civil occupation and class of citizen in the entire country. No other profession has as many hurdles, loopholes, clauses, red tape and other backdoor tricks that make it nearly impossible to terminate, bar and prosecute racist, negligent, abusive and downright violent cops, even when said aforementioned behavior is well known and documented. Over the decades, under the insidious guise of tough on crime reforms and various other laws and ordinances quietly passed in cities and states crime coast to coast, politicians have made it virtually impossible to realistically hold police accountable. Many politicians, in fear of appearing weak on crime blindly rubber stamp police demands without question, which often times are demanded at the behest of powerful and increasingly influential police unions who work to serve themselves not the public which public servants are responsible for and answer to. The U.S. policing institution, the deadliest police force in the developed world, now under the influence of reckless and increasing desperate Trump administration and Sessions led Department of Justice is becoming even less accountable than it was before. As hard as it is to imagine that things could worse, this could be the bleak future we face as courts packed to the brim with far right judges appointed by Trump continually rig an already biased justice system ever more in a favor of tiny, already disproportionately protected segment of the population that hungers for even further privilege and protection codified into law.

Accountability and oversight is important in every single public institution of our country, and right now there is no other place where it’s both so very important and so sorely lacking than in police departments. Accountability isn’t just the obligation to accept responsibility and to account for one’s actions; it’s also exercising the humility to take ownership when mistakes have been and take the proper steps to ensure that they never happen ever again when it’s been brought to the attention of the guilty party. And the sad reality right now is, by in large a vast majority of police and police departments through their very own words and actions don’t want to change. Time and time again police departments have been forced, practically dragged kicking and screaming through the entire process to adopt and implement reforms within their own departments. Often times at the behest of the federal government. True police reform and accountability begins when we start challenging the notion that cop’s lives are somehow inherently and intrinsically more valuable than our own; or that of the average person just by virtue of their title and occupation. Trump, conservatives, cops and all their surrogates can and will try all they want to craft a alternate reality which suits their own agenda. However, as vile incidents of police brutality and misconduct are documented and broadcasted to the rest of the world to see with ever growing prevalence and frequency; police will increasingly face a more distrustful, hostile populace that understandably so is only fueled more and more after continually seeing police officers held to far lower standards than the rest of the general public. All while attempting to manufacture and feign a phony sense of victimhood that is megaphoned from the white house. It doesn’t surprise me that a significant number of cops and law enforcement special interest find hero in Trump. His arrogant, brash, racist, authoritarian and dishonest nature encapsulate the absolute very worst that U.S. policing has to offer and far too many are willing to either accept or turn a blind eye to. Police brutality and misconduct in all of its forms is a tragic, deadly issue that merits an immediate, diverse, multifaceted, comprehensive, ongoing action. Our lives depend upon widespread reform and true, equal justice. However, as long as a person like Trump remains in power spewing toxic rhetoric, peddling blatant lies and perpetuating false victimhood complexes; all while erasing what little progress has already been made in regards to police reform we will continue to live in a nation where the police not only operate with complete impunity but, a society where the mere criticism of public servants is demonized by increasingly craven, authoritarian leaders. While cops may have a difficult and at times dangerous job, that does not change the fact that violence against cops and on-duty deaths are at near all time lows, while police violence and killings by the police are at all time highs. At this point, it seems blatantly clear that far too many cops in the U.S. are more interested in protecting their status, privilege and other bad cops than good citizens; even if it means going along with the lies of this administration to do so. If dangerous rhetoric like that touted by Trump is allowed to continue, it will only serve to make our society even less safe and put further strain only an already tarnished, damaged relationship between police and the general public. These lies and vitriol not only erodes trust, it endangers the public by warping the very perception of communities that police patrol; further endangering the communities they’re supposedly tasked with the duty to ‘protect and serve’. In a profession already marred by misconduct, scandal and corruption we cannot afford to take a single step backwards, and cannot allow our lives to take a backseat to the lies of the police or Trump.

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