Trump's New Decrees on Crime and Policing Codify His Racist, Inflammatory Rhetoric

While the new executive orders are largely bluster, there is reason to be concerned about the policies that could emerge.

Photo Credit: JStone / Shutterstock, Inc.

Speaking at the swearing-in ceremony for Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump echoed a falsehood that he has repeated across the campaign trail, proclaiming: "We face the menace of rising crime.”

Even the FBI’s own statistics show that acts deemed to be violent crime by U.S. authorities are on the decline. Yet, facts have not gotten in the way of Trump’s coded racist narrative, including his campaign lie that the murder rate is at a 45-year high. “Trump is repeating a false claim that crime and murder are spiraling out of control,” Ames Grawert, counsel for the Brennan Center’s Justice Program, told AlterNet. “They are doing no such thing.”

Trump’s deceit is significant not only because it was used to usher in an attorney general with a troubling history of white supremacy who was deemed too racist to serve as a federal judge under Reagan, but it also marked the unrolling on Thursday of three executive orders that are premised on the falsehoods that there is a war on cops and a rise in crime.

While the orders are more bluster than substance, they erect troubling frameworks to expand police funding and powers to commit violence and crack down on protesters at precisely the moment social movements are demanding a halt to law enforcement murders of black, brown and poor communities.

1. “Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety

This executive order instructs Sessions to create a “Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety.” Included within this mandate is the vague proclamation that “It shall be the policy of the executive branch to reduce crime in America.”

Notably, the decree repeats the falsehood that crime is spiraling out of control while echoing Trump’s racist targeting of immigrants. “Many communities across the Nation are suffering from high rates of violent crime,” the order states. “A focus on law and order and the safety and security of the American people requires a commitment to enforcing the law and developing policies that comprehensively address illegal immigration, drug trafficking, and violent crime.”

Vincent Warren, the executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, told Democracy Now on Friday, "This is the first time that I have seen the status of being undocumented looked at as a crime that has to be reduced through enhanced punishment, through enhanced things like that. That’s the big problem that we need to keep our eye on."

“The Department of Justice shall take the lead on Federal actions to support law enforcement efforts nationwide and to collaborate with State, tribal, and local jurisdictions to restore public safety to all of our communities,” the order continues.

The task force is ordered to “exchange information and ideas among its members that will be useful in developing strategies to reduce crime, including, in particular, illegal immigration, drug trafficking, and violent crime.” Under this order, the task for must produce an annual report that includes conclusions and policy recommendations.

While the executive order is vague, the actual policies that Trump proposed on the campaign trail are cause for concern about what could emerge. Trump has called for nationwide “stop and frisk” policing, which is predicated on racial profiling. He has pressed for a dramatic escalation of the drug war, including by increasing mandatory minimum sentencing in response to the opioid epidemic. He called for police patrols of so-called Muslim neighborhoods, without specifying where exactly these neighborhoods are located. And he used racist language to call for a police crackdown on black neighborhoods.

In one of his first acts as president, Trump used the White House’s website to hurl a threat at the Black Lives Matter Movement, writing on the platform: “The dangerous anti-police atmosphere in America is wrong. The Trump Administration will end it.” He went on to state: “Our job is not to make life more comfortable for the rioter, the looter, or the violent disrupter.” As Leon Neyfakh noted in Slate, it was a “bracing message implicitly directed to supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement: Your kind is not welcome in Trump's America.”

“President Trump intends to build task forces to investigate and stop national trends that don’t exist,” said Jeffery Robinson, Deputy Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union and Director of the Trone Center for Justice and Equality, in a statement released Thursday. “We have seen historic lows in the country’s crime rate and a downward trend in killings against police officers since the 1980s. The president not only doesn’t acknowledge these facts about our nation’s safety, he persists in ignoring the all-too-real deaths of Black and brown people at the hands of law enforcement.”

2. "Preventing Violence Against Federal, State, Tribal, and Local Law Enforcement Officers

This executive order instructs the executive branch to “develop strategies, in a process led by the Department of Justice (Department) and within the boundaries of the Constitution and existing Federal laws, to further enhance the protection and safety of Federal, State, tribal, and local law enforcement officers.”

The decree is premised on the falsehood that there is a “war on cops.” As Dan Berger, the author of Captive Nation: Black Prison Organizing in the Civil Rights Era, pointed out in July 2016, “Last year was one of the safest on record for police officers, and even with the targeted killings in Dallas and Baton Rouge, being a police officer does not rate as one of the 10 most dangerous jobs in the country. It is far less dangerous than logging, fishing, or roofing.”

“People are not at war with police,” Berger continued. “But police are at war with people. For more than 50 years, the 'war on cops' story has provided both public support and material resources for the war that metropolitan police departments have waged on mostly poor Black, Brown and Indigenous communities. The 'war on cops' may be an old story, but it is a useful one.”

More recently, the myth of the war on cops has inspired a flurry of “Blue Lives Matter” bills across the country that outrageously lump police into the same category as historically oppressed minorities. Meanwhile, the movement of police and their supporters that has emerged around the “Blue Lives Matter” movement increasingly resembles a racist hate group.

In light of these realities, the executive order is alarming. Flint Taylor argued in Truthout that the decree “can be read as an official authorization, from one white supremacist—Steve Bannon—to another—Jeff Sessions—to pursue the most racist and reactionary criminal legal policies in recent memory.”

3. "Enforcing Federal Law with Respect to Transnational Criminal Organizations and Preventing International Trafficking

This decree states that the executive branch must “strengthen enforcement of Federal law in order to thwart transnational criminal organizations and subsidiary organizations, including criminal gangs, cartels, racketeering organizations, and other groups engaged in illicit activities that present a threat to public safety and national security.”

The order specifically takes aim at undocumented people and instructs the executive branch to “pursue and support additional efforts to prevent the operational success of transnational criminal organizations and subsidiary organizations within and beyond the United States, to include prosecution of ancillary criminal offenses, such as immigration fraud and visa fraud, and the seizure of the implements of such organizations and forfeiture of the proceeds of their criminal activity.”

The executive order includes over-the-top “war on drugs” language, including: “Transnational criminal organizations and subsidiary organizations, including transnational drug cartels, have spread throughout the Nation, threatening the safety of the United States and its citizens. These organizations derive revenue through widespread illegal conduct, including acts of violence and abuse that exhibit a wanton disregard for human life. They, for example, have been known to commit brutal murders, rapes, and other barbaric acts.”

The statement is driven by coded racist language that targets communities of color, evoking Trump’s disgraceful campaign-trail denigration of Mexican immigrants as “rapists.”

“These orders seem more like red meat for the base than very substantive,” Berger told AlterNet. “They are very short on policy and long on verbiage and inflammatory racist rhetoric. I feel as worried about his and Sessions’ talk about the ‘spike in crime’ and other lies. The administration is going to continue to ramp up state repression and encourage and manner of vigilantism.”

According to Warren, "those three executive orders are pretty much right out of the National Fraternal Order of Police playbook. The sum total of those three orders means massive new resources going to law enforcement on the federal, state and local level."

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet. A former staff writer for Common Dreams, she coedited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.

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