Trump signs executive order for better police practices, slams 'defund the police' efforts
U.S. president made no mention of racism in his remarks
Following weeks of national protests since the death of George Floyd, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Tuesday that would encourage better police practices. But he made no mention of the roiling national debate over racism spawned by police killings of Black men and women.
Trump met privately with the families of several Black Americans killed in interactions with police before his White House signing ceremony, and said he grieved for the lives lost and families devastated. But then he quickly shifted his tone and devoted most of his public remarks to a need to respect and support "the brave men and women in blue who police our streets and keep us safe."
He characterized the officers who have used excessive force as a "tiny" number of outliers among "trustworthy" police ranks.
"Reducing crime and raising standards are not opposite goals," he said in the Rose Garden, flanked by police.
Trump and the Republican party have been rushing to respond to the mass demonstrations against police brutality and racial prejudice that have raged for weeks across the country in response to the deaths of Floyd and other Black Americans. It's a sudden shift for the Republicans — and one Democrats are watching warily — that shows how quickly the protests have changed the political conversation and pressured Washington to act.
But Trump, who has faced criticism for failing to acknowledge systemic racial bias, has continued to emphasize his support for law enforcement. At the signing event, he railed against those who committed violence during the largely peaceful protests while hailing the vast majority of officers as selfless public servants.
Trump's executive order would establish a database that tracks police officers with excessive use of force complaints in their records. And it would give police departments a financial incentive to adopt best practices and encourage co-responder programs, in which social workers join police when they respond to nonviolent calls involving mental health, addiction and homeless issues.
Trump said that under a new credentialing process, chokeholds will be banned "except if an officer's life is at risk." Actually, the order instructs the Justice Department to push local police departments to be certified by a "reputable independent credentialing body" with use-of-force policies that prohibit the use of chokeholds, except when the use of deadly force is allowed by law. Chokeholds are already largely banned in police departments nationwide.
Democrats and other critics said Trump's measure doesn't go far enough.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it "falls sadly and seriously short of what is required to combat the epidemic of racial injustice and police brutality that is murdering hundreds of Black Americans."
"During this moment of national anguish, we must insist on bold change, not meekly surrender to the bare minimum," she said.
Kristina Roth at Amnesty International USA said the order "amounts to a Band-Aid for a bullet wound" at a time when "this moment is calling for transformational change of policing."
Florida Democratic Rep. Val Demings, a former Orlando police chief who is seen as a potential vice-presidential running mate for Democrat Joe Biden, praised the executive order as "on the right track," but she criticized Trump for failing to acknowledge racism in acts of police brutality and failing to engage the Justice Department in police reforms.
Trump framed his plan as an alternative to the "defund the police" movement that has emerged from the protests, which he slammed as "radical and dangerous."
"Americans know the truth: Without police there is chaos. Without law there is anarchy and without safety there is catastrophe," he said.
Now is the time to reimagine a more fair and just society in which all people are safe- Vanita Gupta, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters that many tears were shed at Trump's meeting with the families and that "the president was devastated." Trump listed the families' relatives who died and said: "To all the hurting families, I want you to know that all Americans mourn by your side. Your loved ones will not have died in vain."
White House adviser Ja'Ron Smith said it was "a mutual decision" for the families not to attend the public signing. "It really wasn't about doing a photo opportunity," he said. "We wanted the opportunity to really hear from the families and protect them. I mean I think it's really unfortunate that some civil rights groups have even attacked them for coming."
WATCH | Trump's police reform bill criticized for not taking enough action:
The Rose Garden announcement came as Senate Republicans are preparing their own package of policing changes. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the sole Black Republican in the Senate, has been crafting the Republican legislative package, which will include new restrictions on police chokeholds and greater use of police body cameras, among other provisions.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared that Republicans are developing "a serious proposal to reform law enforcement."
The Senate Judiciary Committee was to conduct a hearing Tuesday afternoon on "Police Use of Force and Community Relations," drawing testimony from leading civil rights and law enforcement leaders.
"Now is the time to reimagine a more fair and just society in which all people are safe," Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, was to tell senators, according to advance testimony obtained by The Associated Press.
The nationwide outcry "is anything but a reaction to one isolated incident or the misconduct of a few 'bad apples,"' Gupta says in the advance testimony. "The outcry is a response to the other horrific killings of Black people by police."
While the emerging Republican package isn't as extensive as sweeping Democratic proposals, which are headed for a House vote next week, it includes perhaps the most far-reaching proposed changes to policing procedures from the party long aligned with a "law and order" approach.
Scott, who said he spoke with Trump about the legislation over the weekend, warned Monday that delaying voting until later this summer would be a "bad decision."
The weekend shooting death of Rayshard Brooks by a white officer in Atlanta led to a renewed public outcry, more street protests and the police chief's resignation.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York is among those urging Republicans not to settle for minor changes.
"Now is the time to seek bold and broad-scale change," Schumer said Monday.
With the political debate fluid, it is unclear whether the parties will be able to find common ground. The proposals emerging from Democrats and Republicans share many similar provisions but take different approaches to address some of the issues. Neither bill goes as far as some activists want in their push to "defund the police" by fully revamping departments.
Central to the Republican package would be the creation of the national database to improve transparency so officers cannot transfer from one department to another without public oversight of their records. The Democrats have a similar provision.
Yet the Republican bill does not go as far as the Democrats do on the issue of eliminating qualified immunity, which would allow those injured by law enforcement personnel to sue for damages. The White House has said that is a step too far. As an alternative, Scott has suggested a "decertification" process for officers involved in misconduct.
One large police union, the influential Fraternal Order of Police, said in a statement it is working with Congress and the White House on the proposals, having provided "feedback" on the Democratic bill and "substantial input" on the emerging Republican package.