Trump’s February 9 Executive Order, titled “Preventing Violence Against Federal, State, Tribal, and Local Law Enforcement Officers,” is a clear shift from Obama’s moderate discourse to an agenda heavily favoring policemen. Before getting into the comparison with Obama’s policies, I want to address the Executive Order itself. The “Policy” section outlines the goals of the Order: to increase protection of all law enforcement officers and “thereby all Americans” through enforcement of Federal laws, developing strategies, and creating new Federal crimes designed to deter violence against law enforcement. The “Implementation” section deals with specifics: increased prosecution against those who commit violent crimes against law enforcement; recommendations for legislation increasing protection of law enforcement, “including . . . legislation defining new crimes of violence and establishing new mandatory minimum sentences for existing crimes of violence;” and adjusting grant funding supporting law enforcement designed to support and protect them.
The tone of the Executive Order is overall problematic. Trump’s language suggests that the police are largely the victims of wild criminals running rampant seeking to inflict harm on law enforcement officers. The Order ignores the violence inflicted on civilians by police officers and its provisions could actually exacerbate police-community relations. The provision for new legislation outlining new crimes of violence and establishing mandatory minimum sentences serves to cast opposition to police practices in an increasingly negative light. While Trump ignores violence by the police against civilians, he treats violence by civilians against the police as significantly more heinous. Although most activists would not advocate for use of violence to protest police practices, the Order’s focus on that kind of violence and ignorance of violence by the police shifts the focus away from police accountability. The assertion that the provisions will increase the safety of “all Americans” is therefore misleading – it ignores police inflicting harm on Americans.
The adjusting of grant funding is a step toward the increased militarization of police. One such Federal program that provides for law enforcement is the 1033 Program which gives excess military equipment to local law enforcement. This military equipment gives the officers the appearance of a military force, facing the community as an adversary rather than a protector. This equipment, which has been cited by police forces as essential for officer safety, includes armored vehicles, riot gear, and semi-automatic and automatic rifles. The ACLU has determined that such equipment gives officers a “warrior mentality,” contributing to increased violence against the community. But, Trump’s order coupled with his statement on the Fraternal Order of Police’s website – “The 1033 program is an excellent program that enhances community safety” – suggests that his administration will act to increase such transfer of materials.
Now, Obama’s administration was nowhere near perfect. Under Obama, the 1033 Program transferred more equipment than ever before. But, Obama’s rhetoric and actions served to at least demonstrate consideration for the negative effects of arming the police with military gear. Accordingly, he issued an Executive Order that banned certain materials from being transferred. Although he did not effectively cut all of the concerning military gear, Obama’s approach was starkly different from Trump’s. Trump has set a tone of ignorance toward the negative effects of militarization and police violence and, instead, has begun by treating police as victims when many view them as oppressors.