Trump, Policing, And Ethnic Slurs

The President of the United States should not be encouraging cops to break the law.
07/31/2017 01:33 pm ET Updated Aug 01, 2017
Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

It took a long time to get here. After decades of addressing police misconduct, and then taking the fight to the federal level with protests we all led around the police killings of Eric Garner, Freddie Gray and later Tamir Rice and others, we finally witnessed movement in the right direction. President Obama not only met with civil rights leaders and activists from around the nation, but he implemented The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. That task force made recommendations such as having officers wear body cameras and having the Department of Justice work out consent decrees with police departments around the country. Now President Obama’s successor has the DOJ interfere with consent decrees, and not only does he and his Attorney General say questioning police hurts morale, but this weekend he tells law enforcement to be rough when arresting suspects. This is not only a reversal of progress but it is dangerous and unacceptable behavior from the President of the United States.

'Don’t be too nice,' is one of the many troubling comments President Trump said to a crowd of officers last week in Long Island.

“Don’t be too nice,” is one of the many troubling comments President Trump said to a crowd of officers last week in Long Island. It’s illegal, immoral and unthinkable in a democratic society to say that someone under arrest should be treated in a manner other than presumed innocent until proven otherwise. And even if a person is found guilty, he or she must be treated in a professional manner period. This bias against people who in large part end up being innocent of any crime exposes a president who will use dog whistles and bigotry rather than raise the nation’s vision towards unity and policy that would make such unity come to fruition. To add insult to injury, he used the term “paddy wagon,” which is clearly biased and an established slur.

I, and many others in public life, have been guilty of using slurs (including the “n-word”), but we not only corrected ourselves and apologized, but we no longer use such words. Donald Trump is now the President of the United the States – not the businessman debating and arguing in the penthouse suite at Trump Tower with others (as even we have done in the past). To tell police officers to disobey the law and presumption of innocence, and then use an ethnic slur on top of it, is to normalize behavior we should never accept from the Oval Office.

This is why 1,000 ministers are marching from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s memorial in Washington, D.C. to the DOJ on August 28th. It marks the 54th anniversary of Dr. King’s historic and groundbreaking “I Have a Dream” speech. As I stated during my weekly rally at National Action Network’s headquarters on Saturday, the fundamental tenets of that dream were fighting for voter rights, criminal justice reform and against poverty. All of those are under threat today. Dr. King’s mission was to take on the dream busters, reestablish the higher moral quest of this nation, and affirm the law. This president’s words encourage people to do just the opposite.

We must have a fair and equal justice system where police are held accountable for their actions just like everyone else. We live in a democracy that is governed by rules and the law, and the president should not and cannot encourage cops to break the law. Anyone under arrest must be treated fairly and humanely because those are the standards we set forth as a nation long ago. Encouraging excessive force and a break from protocol (in addition to using ethnic slurs) is reprehensible from anyone – let alone from the President of the United States.

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