Prior to signing an executive order approving law enforcement reforms that civil rights groups criticized as severely tone-deaf and inadequate, President Donald Trump on Tuesday delivered a rambling and authoritarian speech in which he defended U.S. police, attacked racial justice demonstrators, and proclaimed that Americans "want law and order" whether they know it or not.
"They demand law and order," Trump said of the U.S. public. "They may not say it, they may not be talking about it, but that's what they want. Some of them don't even know that's what they want, but that's what they want."
"This executive order is a woeful attempt to shift focus from the dangerous rhetoric and policies he has previously promoted. Piecemeal reform efforts will not achieve the transformative change needed to heal our country."
—Vanita Gupta, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
Speaking in the Rose Garden of the White House to an audience filled with law enforcement officials and members of Congress, Trump downplayed the police violence that killed George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others as the bad behavior of a "very tiny" number of officers.
The president was far less charitable when discussing the historic demonstrations against police violence that have spread across the United States and around the world since Floyd's killing at the hands of Minneapolis police officers on May 25.
"There will be no more looting or arson, and the penalty will be very grave for those who get caught," Trump said, zeroing in on property destruction by a small number of demonstrators. "Violence and destruction will not be tolerated. We cannot do that... Every day police officers make great sacrifices to make our communities secure and safe."
Trump also made a thinly-veiled and disapproving reference to the toppling of Confederate monuments by demonstrators in recent days. "We must build upon our heritage," the president said, "not tear it down."
Trump is entirely taking the side of police. He's not even paying lip service to the issues that have animated protests across the country. pic.twitter.com/xael9qs0xc
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) June 16, 2020
Following his speech, Trump signed what the White House labeled an "Executive Order on Safe Policing for Safe Communities" that authorizes several limited reforms, including a ban on law enforcement use of chokeholds—"except if an officer's life is at risk"—and incentives for police departments to increase training for officers.
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The measure falls far short of what civil rights activists and demonstrators have been demanding since Floyd's killing. Amnesty International's Kristina Roth immediately slammed the order as "a band-aid for a bullet wound."
"Trump's executive order is woefully anemic and fails to address critical issues such as racial profiling, qualified immunity for officers, and the need for national standards concerning use-of-force."
—Kristen Clarke, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under LawVanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in a statement that while the order "takes some steps forward, it is an inadequate response to a nation demanding sweeping, bold action."
"Trump and his administration have taken every opportunity to dismantle federal police reform efforts, undercut accountability, and threaten the public with a militarized law enforcement response," said Gupta. "This executive order is a woeful attempt to shift focus from the dangerous rhetoric and policies he has previously promoted. Piecemeal reform efforts will not achieve the transformative change needed to heal our country and usher in a new era of public safety in which all communities thrive."
Trump signed the executive order in the Rose Garden while flanked by uniformed law enforcement officials who posed for a photo-op with the president.
Just before signing the order, Trump boasted that the measure was endorsed by "the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, the Fraternal Order of Police, International Association of Chiefs of Police, International Union of Police Associations, Major County Sheriffs of America Association, National Association of Police Organizations, National District Attorneys Association, National Sheriffs Association, Sergeants Benevolent Association, and many others."
Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said Trump's order is "not nearly as strong as his attacks on peaceful protesters."
"Trump's executive order is woefully anemic and fails to address critical issues such as racial profiling, qualified immunity for officers, and the need for national standards concerning use-of-force," said Clarke. "The order sugarcoats the grave national crisis of police violence and fails to acknowledge that racism and systemic discrimination have led to the deaths of unarmed black people at alarming rates."
"The order bears the imprint of police unions as reflected by the absence of any procedures for promoting accountability," said Clarke.