Trump admin. increases police militarization & rolls back civil rights enforcement

Police misconduct

Over the past few days, over 100 reports of violence against journalists have been collected by Bellingcat reporter Nick Waters, in this thread. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is also investigating over 100 reports of press freedom violations in the U.S., including at least 76 reported assaults (80% by police).

Only 12 states make police disciplinary records generally available to the public (though some still keep unsubstantiated complaints confidential). These states are Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin. Additionally, 15 states only allow the release of disciplinary records in limited situations (eg termination of the officer) and 23 states keep records confidential.

  • New York has one of the strictest laws shielding police disciplinary records in the nation. The recent protests have provoked Democrats in the State Senate and Assembly to discuss repealing the law.

A 2019 review of records by USA Today found that at least 85,000 law enforcement officers (LEOs) across the country have been investigated or disciplined for misconduct over the past decade. The reported incidents of misconduct include 22,924 investigations of officers using excessive force; 3,145 allegations of rape, child molestation, and other sexual misconduct; and 2,307 cases of domestic violence by officers.

Since the beginning of 2015, officers from the Minneapolis Police Department have rendered people unconscious with neck restraints 44 times. Several police experts said that number appears to be unusually high. Minneapolis police used neck restraints at least 237 times during that span, and in 16 percent of the incidents the suspects and other individuals lost consciousness.

Further reading: There’s One Big Reason Why Police Brutality Is So Common In The US. And That’s The Police Unions. Police unions have become increasingly rightwing as a backlash to the Obama administration and Black Lives Matter — and that’s bad news for the cities they police.

  • The International Union of Police Associations endorsed President Donald Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign, saying he has done more for law enforcement in the past two and a half years than former President Barack Obama had done in eight.

Qualified immunity reigns

What is qualified immunity? Qualified immunity requires a victim to identify an earlier decision by the Supreme Court or a federal appeals court in the same jurisdiction holding that precisely the same conduct under the same circumstances is illegal or unconstitutional. If none exists, the official is immune. Whether the official’s actions are unconstitutional, intentional, or malicious is irrelevant to the test.

  • Further reading: Reuters “For cops who kill, special Supreme Court protection”

The Supreme Court is expected to announce this month whether they will hear cases related to qualified immunity and police abuse. The justices have been reviewing more than a dozen cases involving the doctrine, but if they agree to weigh in it’s not at all clear they would abolish qualified immunity or significantly scale it back.

Rep. Justin Amash announced on Sunday that he will introduce legislation to eliminate qualified immunity and restore Americans’ ability to obtain relief when police officers violate their constitutionally secured rights. “Qualified immunity was created by the Supreme Court in contravention of the text of the statute and the intent of Congress. It is time for us to correct their mistake,” Amash said.

Militarization of police

Federal programs providing surplus military equipment, along with departments’ own purchases, have outfitted officers with firepower that is often far beyond what is necessary for their jobs as protectors of their communities. As part of the 1033 Program, the Department of Defense is legally required to make various items of equipment available to local law enforcement.

History: The 1033 Program was essentially created by Congress in 1990, originally for use in drug enforcement by federal and state law enforcement. But in 1997, the program was expanded to include all law enforcement agencies, though with a preference for those with anti-drug or anti-terrorism programs. The White House said the 1033 program had resulted in the transfer of more than $5.4 billion worth of surplus military equipment to state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies

In May 2015, President Obama ended the distribution of some types of military equipment to local law enforcement agencies because “it makes police seem like an occupying force instead of public servants.” If police departments wanted less-imposing military equipment, local law enforcement agencies had to submit to stringent federal oversight and restrictions.

In 2017, President Trump revived the program curtailed by Obama, allowing police departments to obtain military equipment like tanks and grenade launchers. Then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the heavy-weaponry “lifesaving gear.” The Fraternal Order of Police praised the move, saying: “The previous [Obama] administration was more concerned about the image of law enforcement being too ‘militarized’ than they were about our safety.”

Study: Militarization fails to enhance police safety or reduce crime but may harm police reputation. “[M]ilitarized ‘special weapons and tactics’ (SWAT) teams are more often deployed in communities of color, and—contrary to claims by police administrators—provide no detectable benefits in terms of officer safety or violent crime reduction, on average. However, survey experiments suggest that seeing militarized police in news reports erodes opinion toward law enforcement.”

Sen. Brian Schatz announced that he plans to discontinue the 1033 Program with an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act.

Civil rights rollback

The Trump administration has been rolling back civil rights efforts across federal government… In 2017, top officials in the DOJ civil rights division have issued verbal instructions through the ranks to seek settlements without consent decrees — which would result in no continuing court oversight. Then in 2018, outgoing-AG Jeff Sessions sharply limited the use of consent decrees altogether, abandoning the prospect of using court-enforced agreements to overhaul local police departments accused of abuses and civil rights violations.

DOJ committed to review the police department’s policies and practices and offer recommendations for reform, only to reverse course during the Trump era and reduce the amount of oversight and accountability it was willing to provide. Sessions has even refused to release the results of the department’s review of the practices of North Charleston Police Department, despite multiple written requests from community leaders and from South Carolina’s African American Republican United States Senator, Tim Scott.

In Sept. 2017, the DOJ ended the Community Oriented Policing Services’ Collaborative Reform Initiative, a Justice Department program that aimed to help build trust between police officers and the communities they serve.

The Trump administration is pursuing far fewer civil rights cases — including hate crimes and police bias — than the Obama or Bush administration did. The DOJ’s Civil Rights Division started 60 percent fewer cases against potential violations during the first two years of the Trump administration than during the Obama years and 50 percent fewer than under George W. Bush.

Inflaming tensions

Yesterday, Trump told the nation’s governors in a video teleconference to aggressively target violent protesters he said would only respond to a show of force. Audio here “You have to dominate. If you don’t dominate you’re wasting your time, they’re gonna run over you, you’re going to look like a bunch of jerks. You have to dominate and you have to arrest people and you have to try people and they have to go to jail for long periods of time….it’s a movement that if you don’t put it down it’ll get worse and worse… The only time its successful is when you’re weak and most of you are weak.”

  • Trump made this call hours after speaking with Russian President Putin. On the governors’ call, Trump also said: “You know when other countries watch this, they’re watching this, the next day wow, they’re really a push over. And we can’t be a push over. And we have all the resources – it’s not like we don’t have the resources. So, I don’t know what you’re doing.”
  • Illinois Gov. Pritzker pushed back on Trump during the phone call, saying “I’ve been extraordinarily concerned about the rhetoric that’s been used by you. It’s been inflammatory… The rhetoric coming out of the White House is making it worse. And I need to say that people are experiencing real pain out there.” Trump responded by saying “I don’t like your rhetoric much either.”

Later on Monday, Trump announced from the Rose Garden that he is “your law and order president” and threatened to dispatch the military to American streets if governors cannot quell the protests. Video. A law called the Posse Comitatus Act prohibits the domestic use of military for law enforcement purposes without specific congressional authorization, said Stephen Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas Law School. But a different law, the Insurrection Act, provides the president authorization to do so under certain circumstances, he said.

Trump had peaceful protestors in Lafayette Square, just outside the White House, cleared from the area with flash-bang shells and tear gas in order to stage a photo-op at St. John’s church. Video. The bishop of the church blasted the PR stunt: “I am outraged. The President did not pray when he came to St. John’s, nor as you just articulated, did he acknowledge the agony of our country right now.”

A nationwide review identified at least 54 criminal cases where Trump was invoked in direct connection with violent acts, threats of violence, or allegations of assault. In at least 12 cases perpetrators hailed Trump in the midst or immediate aftermath of physically assaulting innocent victims. In another 18 cases, perpetrators cheered or defended Trump while taunting or threatening others. And in another 10 cases, Trump and his rhetoric were cited in court to explain a defendant’s violent or threatening behavior.

Further reading: “An Oral History of Trump’s Bigotry,” by The Atlantic


Resources for Those Seeking to Help Anti-Police Brutality Protesters

What to Know Before Heading to a Protest

What to Bring to a Peaceful Protest