WASHINGTON — Following weeks of national protests since the death of George Floyd, President Donald Trump has signed an executive order that he said would encourage better police practices though critics say it doesn’t go far enough.
The executive order would establish a database that tracks police officers with excessive use-of-force complaints in their records. Many officers who wind up involved in fatal incidents have long complaint histories, including Derek Chauvin, the white Minneapolis police officer who has been charged with murder in the death of Floyd. Those records are often not made public, making it difficult to know if an officer has such a history.
The order would also 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, as part of the order, the use of chokeholds, which have become a symbol of police brutality, would 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.
Trump met privately with the families of several black Americans killed in interactions with police before his Rose Garden signing ceremony and said he grieved for the lives lost and families devastated. Most of his public remarks pertained 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 before signing the order Tuesday, flanked by police officials.
Trump and Republicans in Congress have been rushing to respond to the mass demonstrations against police brutality and racial prejudice that have raged across the country in response to the May 25 death of Floyd and other black Americans in recent times. It’s a sudden shift that underscores 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 and has advocated for rougher police treatment of suspects in the past, has continued to hold his ‘law and order.” line. 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.
While Trump hailed his efforts as “historic,” Democrats and other critics said he didn’t go nearly far enough.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said, “One modest inadequate executive order will not make up for his decades of inflammatory rhetoric and his recent policies designed to roll back the progress that we’ve made in previous years.”
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the order “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.”
Kristina Roth at Amnesty International USA said the order “amounts to a Band-Aid for a bullet wound.”
But Trump said others want to go too far. He, framed his plan as an alternative to the “defund the police” movement to fully revamp departments that has emerged from the protests and 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.