President Trump and Police Use of Force

When I was at Fault Lines, we had very clear guidelines about writing articles on politics—don’t do it. So for the most part, we did not write on political figures unless it tied directly into a matter that we were otherwise OK to write about. I was good with that, but you may have noticed that this isn’t Fault Lines. Don’t get me wrong, for the most part, politics won’t play into my posts.* There are times however, when we must bring politics into play here, and this is one of those times. President Trump gave a speech in Long Island before a bunch of police officers and he endorsed police brutality by officers. This is unacceptable and it is harmful to both the nation and the presidency. We have to condemn the President’s remarks in no uncertain terms.

The President’s words were clear:

[W]hen you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon—you just see them thrown in, rough—I said, please don’t be too nice. Like 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?

It didn’t take long for responsible police leaders to respond. The IACP released a statement covering the police use of force. The New York Times and other news outlets noted that police department after police department issued statements that excessive force would not be tolerated and officers would be punished if they mistreated suspects. New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill said it perfectly:

To suggest that police officers apply any standard in the use of force other than what is reasonable and necessary is irresponsible, unprofessional and sends the wrong message to law enforcement as well as the public. . .

I was discussing this issue at RallyPoint,† where some immediately defended the speech. One warrant officer who is also a California deputy sheriff made statements that it is worse now than ever for police officers, and that Trump’s statements are appropriate. This is typical of the new mindset of police officers. First, his statement is factually incorrect. The crime rate is at its lowest level in about 50 years, and there are far fewer officers being killed now than in the late-80s, early-90s.

But that’s the narrative that he hears, because he’s only interested in the sound of an echo chamber, like PoliceOne and the Force Science Institute.‡ It’s a common problem that communities are now facing. The over-militarization of the police has created an us-them mentality, and the police are taking the position of Anakin Skywalker, that if you are not a blind supporter, then you are against him, and are therefore evil.

We’ve already got a police accountability and transparency problem in the United States. The voters in Oakland recently created a civilian oversight board, where the board could fire bad officers, and Seattle just strengthened its civilian oversight, as did Chicago. It’s part of a trend to rein back the excesses of the few police officers who use excessive force, who the community wants to be controlled and eliminated.

Many police officers don’t like this, naturally. That’s who Trump was pandering to, the audience he was targeting. It encourages bad officers to step over the line, convinced of their own righteousness. When Anakin did it, he became Darth Vader. That’s not who we want as police officers. And we don’t want the Anakins to be encouraged by the Trumps, either.

*For disclosure, I’m a libertarian who typically votes Republican, but who supported Gary Johnson in the last presidential election.

†RallyPoint is sort of a cross between LinkedIn and FaceBook for the military, from currently serving members, to veterans, and to retired service members. I’m a retired USAFR captain.

‡FSI is a pro-police organization that uses junk science to support police officers, particularly in officer-involved-shootings.