Three years ago the photos of heavily armed officers mounted on armored trucks made headlines across the nation. The sights of thick tear gas being launched into crowds and people running in fear replayed on the news networks for weeks. No, the images were not of our military fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq, but rather the images showed police officers in Ferguson, Missouri during the 2014 protests.
The excessive response by Ferguson police raised a series of questions surrounding law enforcement’s use of force, their training, and their respect for civil rights and liberties. The Black Lives Matter movement was born out of individuals desperate to draw attention to the hundreds of police shootings against minorities every year. While it is not possible to provide an exact number of police involved fatalities, one site estimated that 1,039 individuals died at the hands of police in 2014. President Obama, among other leaders, reacted to the crisis with an understanding that the trauma these marginalized communities endured was a cause worth fighting for.
It was not long after the events of Ferguson that other police departments nationwide came under increasing scrutiny. President Obama signed an executive order calling for a ban and review of issuing military equipment to police departments. In addition, the federal government launched an investigation into the Ferguson Police Department and their violation of civil rights. While the actions above showed some understanding the crisis, the underlying issues were never fully addressed. Police departments nationwide are still heavily militarized. In 2015, police officers were again involved in approximately 1,000 fatal shootings. More than 100 unarmed African Americans alone were killed in 2015. In 2016, police officers were involved in over 950 fatal shootings. The issue is clear, police oversight and the imbalance of power between citizens and the police continue to plague our nation.
Fast-forward to 2017. President Donald Trump has embarked upon a crusade to return to the status quo. Over the summer, President Trump signed an executive order reversing President Obama’s actions on demilitarizing the police. Local police departments can once again obtain excess military vehicles and weapons for their respective departments. President Trump’s administration has also made their opinion on police use of force and oversight very clear.
More specifically, President Trump has issued statements encouraging police officers to be more aggressive with suspects. His attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has also claimed that federal oversight such as consent decrees “can reduce morale of the police officers.” He is not in favor of continuing such reviews in spite of the fact that outside reviews protect citizens and their rights.
For example, a Department of Justice investigation into Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio found that Mr. Arpaio had violated the civil rights of Latinos in his jurisdiction for many years. Former Sheriff Arpaio was subsequently found guilty of a contempt of court charge in July for his repeated disregard of court orders. In August, President Trump issued Mr. Arpaio a full pardon for his crimes.
President Trump once again demonstrated his lack of moral fiber after the Charlottesville attack, which left an innocent woman dead at the hands of a neo-Nazi and white supremacist. President Trump callously equivocated the actions of neo-Nazis and white supremacist protesters with the actions of the anti-protestors eager to push back against their racist and bigoted views.
Mr. President, there can be no equivocation of those who are standing on the correct side of history in combating racism. There are no “good people” in a group of domestic terrorists who promote anti-semitism, racism, and violence.
So where does that leave us today? We need not look any further than President Trump’s twitter account. Over the past few months, President Trump has taken aim at NFL players, among other athletes, who have elected to kneel during our national anthem as a way to protest and draw attention to racial inequality and excessive use of force by police. President Trump claims those who kneel are disrespecting our flag and our veterans.
The president and his administration fail to recognize that the pillars of our justice system and our democracy depend on oversight,..."
It is troubling to see President Trump attack peaceful protest on a weekly basis while disregarding the violent acts of others. Perhaps the most troubling part is that President Trump has waged war on our democracy. The men and women of our armed forces fought overseas to give individuals the right to protest. And yes, that includes protestors who elect to kneel during our national anthem. While I may not agree with their form of protest, I respect their rights. President Trump has attempted to paint the protests as being disrespectful to our veterans. Perhaps, President Trump can spend time regaling us on how his actions to dodge the draft showed honor and respect to our nation? Perhaps, he can explain why he disparaged Senator John McCain, a war veteran and former prisoner of war, as not being a hero?
The truth is, President Trump cannot answer those questions. The president and his administration fail to recognize that the pillars of our justice system and our democracy depend on oversight, the preservation of civil rights, civil liberties, and the safety of our citizens. And yes, that includes safety of our citizens from police officers who engage in excessive use of force. Law enforcement oversight should not be viewed as being detrimental to a police department, but rather as an opportunity to enhance transparency and respect. Moreover, community involvement with the police department allows for more effective training, feedback and, most importantly, trust.
Military weapons and vehicles serve a very important role for our men and women in the armed forces. Moreover, there are times in which local law enforcement officers must utilize the same equipment when dealing with heavily armed perpetrators. That being said, police officers launching a war on protestors on our city streets is not the appropriate. President Trump distorting the narrative of protestors and impeding the crucial conversation about the need for policing and criminal justice reform is not the appropriate course of action. President Trump attacking citizens for exercising their rights is not the appropriate response.
President Trump ran on a “law and order” campaign. Over the past couple of months, it has become clear that President Trump’s view on “law and order” only applies to a select few. It need not be said that we must hold our police accountable in the same manner that they hold us accountable. We as a society must preserve the pillars of justice and our fundamental rights. It is now time that we hold our president accountable for his flawed policies and lies.