Under President Obama, the U.S. Department of Justice often intervened in high-profile racially charged cases of flagrant police brutality, but President Trump’s Justice Department and its white supremacist Attorney General takes the opposite approach.
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So a week after police fired 20 shots into Stephon Clark in Sacramento, California and sparked a wave of mass protests and on-going racial turbulence, Trump’s administration is once again shrugging off any involvement.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders today told reporters that the president believes it is a “local matter and something we feel should be left up to local authorities” – meaning they will do nothing to help Clark’s family find justice for their son.
“We want to make sure all law enforcement is carrying out the letter of the law,” added Sanders.
“The president is very supportive of law enforcement,” she continued. “but at the same time, in these specific cases and specific instances, those will be left up to local authorities to make that determination and not something for the federal government to weigh in on.”
Note that in all of her comments, Sanders talked about law enforcement without ever really addressing the racially charged anger that has exploded since an unarmed 22-year-old man – who was holding a cell phone – was shot down by police while standing in his own grandmother’s backyard.
The police chose to use deadly force even though they had non-lethal means at their disposal and failed to give the young man adequate time to surrender.
President Obama recognized that the social explosion and sense of injustice were not on the side of the police, but among minorities who for years have suffered under the callous policies of ruthless police forces that shoot first and ask questions later.
Under President Obama, his Justice Department identified police departments that had violated civil rights and got court orders or consent decrees to force them to reform their bad practices, but under Attorney General Jeff Sessions that has stopped completely.
Under President Obama, the federal government worked with police using a voluntary process called collaborative reform under which the Justice Department provided expertise to help them improve relations with minority communities resulting in better performance of their duties – but Trump and Sessions killed that program.
Under President Obama, the federal government investigated officer-involved shootings n Ferguson, Mo., Sanford, Fl., and Cleveland, among other places.
In some cases, as in Cleveland and Ferguson, reports The Hill, the Justice Department uncovered issues in the way police operated and identified a pattern of excessive force by officers.
That led to solutions to make the police and community work together again.
Sessions instead have given his unwavering support to police, offering them more resources and even excess military equipment that President Obama refused to give them.
Sessions has made speeches where he talks about the “rule of law” and blames “excessive rhetoric” by minorities for violence and excuses what police do that is improper or just wrong.
Sessions blamed minority anger for the rise in police killings but in fact, in the final year of the Obama administration, fewer police were killed in the line of duty.
The number of people killed by police, however, rose by two dozen.
“Words matter,” notes the non-profit Marshall Project, “and Trump’s words were a loud, often racially charged departure from the reformist talk of being “smart on crime” and making police ‘guardians, not warriors.'”
Instead of healing communities as President Obama was doing, under Trump, there is more anger, greater distrust and more violence than ever.
The only good news is that in California, where Democrats rule, the Attorney General has announced he will get involved to provide “independent oversight” of police actions and to help find a way to work with angry community activists.
“We take on this responsibility in full recognition of the importance of getting it right,” said California AG Xavier Becerra, “because there is nothing more important than respect and trust between law enforcement and the communities they are sworn to protect as we work to keep all Californians safe.”
Under Trump, more people are going to jail and private prison companies are growing along with the number of prisoners from crime and especially immigration programs.
It is not the job of the federal government to get involved in every case, but as President Obama showed, by acting in selective cases where there is a history of problems, where communities and police are at odds, where there is a history of police abuse, it can make a significant difference.
Under Trump, the only difference is that it is getting worse.
Communities and law enforcement are more divided and fear is rising that it will continue to get worse.
So while Sarah Sanders hands out platitudes and praises the police with empty rhetoric, the racial divide in America is approaching explosive levels once again, and an increase in force is only going to make it worse.
Once again Trump is treating the symptoms of violence, not the cause and cure, and that will not end well for police or the rest of America.