Police reform is the cause of the day in the wake of the killing of African Americans by law enforcement officers and demonstrations for weeks across the country. Seeking to address the issues involved, President Trump signed an executive order for federal grants to help police departments meet certification standards on the use of force and ban chokeholds except when an officer’s life is at risk. The order would also create a national database on complaints of excessive force.
Trump signed the order after meeting with the families of some recent victims of encounters with police. “All Americans mourn by your side,” he said. “Your loved ones will not have died in vain. I could never imagine your pain or the depth of your anguish, but I can promise to fight for justice for all of our people.” No doubt, his comments reflect the sentiment of every American of good will and should find acceptance within the black community although that may be a bridge too far in our racially polarized country.
The order serves as a “starting point,” a White House official told NBC News, saying it was “as far as we can go at the executive level.” Trump said he was committed to working with Congress on additional measures. “Hopefully they will all get together and come up with a solution that goes even beyond what we’re signing today,” he said. That should be doable with cooperation from Democrats who have proposed a sweeping reform measure that would ban chokeholds such as that used in the death of George Floyd in Minnesota and no-knock warrants as was the case in the killing of 26-year-old emergency room technician Breonna Taylor at her home in Louisville, Ky.
The objective of the order, a White House official said, is to take action on the issues but not restrict the ability of police to do their jobs, asserting that Democratic proposals go too far and “would render police departments ineffective.” Trump said a plan being developed by Senate Republicans could go “hand in hand” with his executive order, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already selected GOP Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the Senate’s on black Republican, to lead the work on police reform legislation.
Predictably, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) blasted Trump’s executive order, saying its reforms will not offset “years of inflammatory rhetoric and policies.” Schumer said the president’s action “will not deliver the comprehensive meaningful change and accountability in our nation’s police departments that Americans are demanding.” He asserted that Congress needs to enact “strong and bold legislation with provisions that makes it easier to hold police officers accountable for abuses, and President Trump must commit to signing it into law.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi likewise panned Trump’s action, saying the order “lacks meaningful, mandatory accountability measures to end misconduct.”
The opposition could be summed up in the comments of Kendall Thomas, a Columbia University Law professor who focuses on race, policing and constitutional law. He said Trump’s order fell short of serious policy change and instead showed reform continues to emphasize police training instead of community safety. “That executive order was not aimed at anything more than preserving the status quo,” Thomas asserted. “This is not about embracing policies that would end punitive policing. It’s about incremental reforms that will make punitive policing more powerful.” His view represents a giant leap of misconstruing the president’s clear intentions.
So the usual partisan battle lines are drawn. Which side is willing to concede ground? The president has taken action that should address the issues without making it unreasonably difficult for police departments to do their jobs. Congress should do its job. But don’t expect the Democrats in Congress — beholden to the extreme left — to back down from their more restrictive proposals for police reform. However, they will go nowhere, given Trump’s veto power and Republican control of the Senate.
The real battle is for the White House, and Democrats will continue to use their talking points in collaboration with their media cohorts to paint Trump as unfit for the presidency. But it’s clear that the president has faced up to the issue of police reform and taken action that reasonable people will support. In our view, he has done the right thing for the right reasons and our country will be the better for it.