Calling for unity as legislators in Washington, DC debate police reform and cities across the country struggle to address anti-police protests, President Donald Trump signed a new executive order on Tuesday that he said, “encourages police departments to adopt the highest professional standards”.
Trump’s order establishes financial incentives for police departments to adopt national best practices through credentials to be offered by independent qualifying bodies. It would restrict chokeholds of the kind that killed George Floyd on May 25 but still allow use when a police officer’s life is threatened.
The order also establishes a Department of Justice database that will track police officers who are accused of using excessive force to prevent bad cops from hopping from town to town in law enforcement.
It would steer more federal funding to training for police departments in handling mental health, homelessness and addiction.
“What’s needed now is not more stoking of fear and division. We need to bring law enforcement and communities closer together, not to drive them apart,” Trump said.
Democrats in the House of Representatives and Republicans in the Senate are preparing competing packages of policing changes as US politicians seek to respond to mass demonstrations over the deaths of George Floyd and other Black Americans.
Favourability On Black Lives Matter:
Favourable 61% (+24 Since 2017)
Unfavourable 30% (-18)
Morning Consult National Poll
— Political Polls (@PpollingNumbers) June 11, 2020
The flurry of activity shows how quickly the mass protests over police violence and racial prejudice are transforming politics in the US.
Kyle Kondik, an analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said the president and Congress are responding to “some real measurable shifts in public opinion about police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement”.
“Usually when there are big shifts in public opinion you do see politicians try to get in front of that. It’s not just Trump,” Kondik told Al Jazeera.
“These protests have captured the public’s interest and the political system is responding to that,” Kondik said.
The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday held a hearing on policing, drawing testimony from the nation’s 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, told senators, according to The Associated Press news agency.
The nationwide outcry “is anything but a reaction to one isolated incident or the misconduct of a few ‘bad apples'”, Gupta said.
Senator Tim Scott, the sole African American 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. Scott said he spoke with Trump about the legislation over the weekend.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Trump’s executive action does not go far enough.
“While the president has finally acknowledged the need for policing reform, one modest executive order will not make up for his years of inflammatory rhetoric and policies designed to roll back the progress made in previous years,” Schumer said in a statement.
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.
“I strongly oppose the radical and dangerous efforts to defund, dismantle and dissolve our police departments,” Trump said.
“We have to give them great respect for what they do, for the job is one of the most dangerous jobs on earth,” he said.
Trump took a political shot at Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, saying Biden had failed to address criminal justice reform as vice president during the Obama administration.
“Many of the same politicians now presenting themselves as the solution are the same ones who have failed for decades on schools, jobs, justice and crime,” Trump said, sounding a campaign theme.
Biden is casting the issue more broadly as revolving around “systemic racism” and tweeted a video clip of a conversation with a campaign field organiser.