Trump’s order would also incentivize local departments to bring on experts in mental health, addiction and homelessness as “co-responders” to “help officers manage these complex encounters.” And it would encourage better information sharing to track officers with “credible abuses” to prevent them from moving from one department to the next.
The text of the order directs the Justice Department to create and maintain a database to track when officers have been terminated or decertified, have been criminally convicted for on-duty conduct or faced civil judgments for improper use of force. It notes that information-sharing related to use-of-force complaints would not apply in “instances where a law enforcement officer resigns or retires while under active investigation related to the use of force,” and emphasizes that the database would track only episodes in which an officer was “afforded fair process.“
But it does not address the issue of qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that reform advocates say shields police from liability and that the White House has called a nonstarter for any reform measures.
The president’s action on Tuesday swiftly drew criticism from activists for systemic reform for not going far enough and for a lack of teeth. The vast majority of law enforcement decisions are made at the state and local levels, and Trump‘s order aims only to incentivize local departments by stipulating that only departments that adopt his reforms might be eligible for discretionary grants from the Justice Department.
The ACLU seized on the optics of Tuesday‘s event, as well as Trump‘s failure to mention racism in his remarks or in the executive order. It noted that on the point of whether racism exists in policing, he even broke with some in his party. The group also called for communities to divest from police departments and shrink police presence in Americans’ lives.
“The word he was afraid to use is more memorable than anything he did say,” the ACLU’s executive director, Anthony D. Romero, said in a statement. “The president’s use of victims’ families as a backdrop as he offered empty words of sympathy, anemic reforms, and hollow rhetoric was sad — to borrow a word from the president’s vocabulary. What’s wrong with this picture: The president had a veritable beauty pageant of law enforcement officers behind him as he signed an executive order that was supposedly meant as a response to the public outcry of recent weeks.“
The Brennan Center, a think tank and advocacy group that has pushed for criminal justice reform, dismissed the executive order as making “only cosmetic changes when the nation is ready for law enforcement’s racism to be pulled out by its roots,” noting that it “says nothing“ about racial disparities in policing. While the group called the order‘s reforms a slate of “welcome changes,” it said that legislation in the House was more comprehensive and would be more effective.
The president himself appeared to acknowledge the restraints of unilateral action, announcing that “beyond the steps we’re taking today, I am committed to working with Congress on additional measures” for police reform.
The executive order comes as Senate Republicans led by Tim Scott of South Carolina, the lone black member of their conference, are planning to introduce their own police reform proposal on Wednesday. Democrats in the House and Senate have introduced their own sweeping police reform proposal, which would ban chokeholds, limit qualified immunity for police officers, create a National Police Misconduct Registry and stop the use of no-knock arrest warrants in drug cases.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said the executive order “was pretty good as far as it went,” but noted that “there are limitations.“
“It’s not the law,” he said. “But I thought it was fine.”
Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) added that he supported the president‘s recommending a ban on chokeholds, and predicted that GOP legislation “is going to be consistent with that.”
But Trump’s executive order was panned by Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
“While the president has finally acknowledged the need for police reform, 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,” Schumer told reporters. “Now is the moment for real, lasting, comprehensive change.“
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), meanwhile, said the president‘s latest move “completely misses the mark,“ asserting that the American public wants to see “bold ideas that will lead to major change.“
House Speaker Pelosi, in an interview on MSNBC, also ripped Trump’s order as “weak“ and pointed to the president’s call on Congress to supplement Tuesday‘s executive order.
“He alluded to that a number of times: Congress should do more. Yes, it would be easy to do more, because he fell so short,“ she said, before blasting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for dismissing the House bill.
The House is expected to approve its bill at the committee level later this week and bring the measure to the floor late next week. Senate Republicans, meanwhile, are now considering holding a vote on Scott’s police reform bill before the July Fourth recess — after previously ruling out the idea — with a decision on timing likely coming this week.
At the outset of his remarks, the president took on a more somber tone as he addressed his private meeting with the families of Ahmaud Arbery, Botham Jean, Antwon Rose, Atatiana Jefferson, Jemel Roberson, Michael Dean, Darius Tarver, Cameron Lamb and Everett Palmer.
“To all of the hurting families, I want you to know that all Americans mourn by your side. Your loved ones will not have died in vain. We’re one nation, we grieve together and we heal together,” Trump said. “I can never imagine your pain or the depth of your anguish, but I can promise to fight for justice for all of our people.”
Although the president later added that “what is needed now is not more stoking of fear and division,” his early calls for unity quickly fell by the wayside as the speech delved into an emphasis on, and condemnation of, the looting and destruction that were relative outliers at mass protests nationwide for police reform.
“Law and order must be restored,” Trump demanded, though the country‘s protests have been largely peaceful for weeks. He asserted that “the looters have no cause that they’re fighting for — just trouble.”
“Americans know the truth: Without police, there is chaos. Without law, there is anarchy. And without safety, there is catastrophe,” Trump argued, adding that “we need leaders at every level of government who have the moral clarity to state these obvious facts.”
“Reducing crime and raising standards are not opposite goals. They’re not mutually exclusive,” he continued.
Although he was ostensibly in the Rose Garden to discuss police reform, Trump delivered an emphatic defense of law enforcement as a whole, rejecting complaints of systemic racism in policing and contending that only a “very tiny” percentage of police are so-called bad apples. The text of the executive order itself contains no mention of the words “racism” or “bias,” concepts that reform advocates assert are ingrained in law enforcement.
For the signing ceremony itself, Trump surrounded himself onstage with sheriffs and other law enforcement representatives. Just one of the several law enforcement representatives onstage with the president was black.
“Americans want law and order, and they demand law and order. They may not say it, they may not be talking about it, but that’s what they want,” he told the audience. “Some of them don’t know that that’s what they want but that’s what they want.”
The president also lobbed political attacks, denouncing “radical and dangerous efforts” by some on the left to “dismantle and dissolve our police departments, especially now when we’ve achieved the lowest recorded crime rates in American history.”
“We have to break old patterns of failure,” he said later, contending that “many of the same politicians now presenting themselves as the solution are the same ones that have failed for decades on schools, jobs, justice and crime.”
“They’re all often unfortunately the same politicians running the cities and states where help is most needed,” he argued.
He then accused two such politicians by name.
“President Obama and Vice President Biden never even tried to fix this during their eight-year period. The reason they didn’t try is because they had no idea how to do it,” Trump claimed without noting that his administration had overturned several initiatives that were the result of an Obama administration task force on police reform.
The end of Trump’s speech morphed into a version of his campaign speech, touting his administration’s accomplishments to pass criminal justice reform legislation and secure funding for historically black colleges and universities. It also touched on the stock market and the coronavirus pandemic, with Trump promising a vaccine and therapeutics to address the global pandemic by year’s end, and separately making the eyebrow-raising suggestion that school choice “is the civil rights statement of the year, of the decade, and probably beyond.”
He eventually pivoted back to the subject of police reform before signing the executive order.
“To go forward, we must seek cooperation, not confrontation. We must build upon our heritage, not tear it down,” he told the audience. “We must cherish the principles of America’s founding as we strive to deliver safe, beautiful, elegant justice and liberty for all.”
Marianne Levine and Burgess Everett contributed to this report.