Speaking to a group of police officers on Long Island Friday night, Donald Trump encouraged the nation’s police to rough up suspects and convicts, joking about the scourge of police brutality plaguing America. Officers seated behind Trump during his speech chortled and applauded, playfully poking each other in the ribs, while listening to Trump’s contemptible diatribe.
For the more than 60 million Americans who have contact with the police this year, police brutality, use of excessive force, and official abuses are no laughing matter. As evidenced by the history of police homicides of innocent citizens — like those of Philando Castile and Justine Damond, both in Minneapolis; Freddy Gray in Baltimore; and Eric Garner in New York — a routine police encounter can turn deadly in the blink of an eye.
To begin with, there is enough video and photographic evidence of Trump’s speech on Friday to identify every officer cheering for Trump’s misguided, threatening, and criminal comments. The public should demand that the officers responsible for supporting Trump’s homicidal encouragement be removed from duty and employment immediately — and stripped of any municipal pension. Discouraging police abuse and brutality must involve severe measures to send a clear message to the 900,000 officers of this nation.
In 1994, Congress enacted the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which requires the United States attorney general to collect data on the use of excessive force. However, the issue of police brutality and excessive force is not easily tracked. Entrenched in a culture of secrecy and “Blue Brotherhood” among police officers, official crimes are rarely reported, investigated, or pursued regardless of Congressional mandates.
“Like when you put somebody in the car and you are protecting their head, you know? The way you put your hand over . . . like don’t hit their head and they’ve just killed somebody, don’t hit their head, I said, ‘You can take the hand away, O.K.,’ ”
Donald Trump, 7/28/2017
The U.S. Department of Justice attempts to track statistics, but the actual numbers of police brutality are likely skewed since the DOJ reports that a majority of officers will not report other officers’ misconduct on the job. Additionally, 84% of police officers have witnessed the use of excessive force, but over two-thirds of those officers did not make a report of misconduct.
High profile cases highlight the problem of police brutality through media and public scrutiny of isolated incidents. They also demonstrate another disturbing national trend — less than 10% of investigated excessive force and abuse cases result in either disciplinary action or criminal charges. In 2015, former F.B.I. director James Comey addressed the issue of police brutality and said there was no “reliable grasp” of the problem.
In a country with one police officer for every 360 citizens, the United States needs to do more to eliminate the problem of police homicides, assaults, and rapes. Though these complaints are often grouped under the kinder umbrella of “misconduct,” the actions are none-the-less criminal and must be called what they are and prosecuted.
On Friday evening, Donald Trump added another crime to the growing list of transgressions he is being investigated for committing. He made a terroristic threat to the entire population of America. Pursuant to New York state law, making terroristic threats is a felony and it may also be prosecuted under federal statutes.
Breaking the cycle of police brutality will take more than just prosecution of those responsible and those who make light of assaulting and killing innocent citizens. It will require widespread reform — the type of which will likely escape the intellect and morality of the current administration — to change the way law enforcement protects public safety. It is not simply a problem of implementing non-lethal weapons (Eric Gardner was killed by an officer’s hands and Freddie Gray by a vehicle).
As a nation, we must demand a smarter approach to law enforcement: higher standard than a high-school diploma and no felony record for those we entrust with assault rifles and tanks to patrol our streets. Police officers should have college degrees in sociology and psychology, rather than certificate in criminal justice.
Now that the technology exists, every police encounter of any kind — from a traffic stop to an interrogation — must have contemporaneous audio and video recording by law. Even as more departments utilize body cameras, 15 states are already trying to suppress body cam footage and exempt it from Federal Freedom of Information Act requests. It is this mentality of police-state secrecy that needs to be broken before the system can be fixed.
Police officers must have extensive psychological screening, ongoing treatment, and spend equal amounts of time on and off the street. With an average of 1-in-5 Americans suffering from some form of mental illness, this means that 20 percent of the nation’s police force is also struggling with psychological disorders. Add the stress of the job, adrenaline, and unlimited authority, and we have the recipe for the tragic disasters happening on America’s streets.
Donald Trump’s speech on Friday is another lowlight in the annals of law enforcement in the “land of the free.” The time has come to be serious about the issue of police brutality instead of making jokes about it and it is time to hold those responsible accountable. When a person of authority abuses an innocent citizen, suspect, or convict, it is a violent crime and he must be prosecuted the same as any other — especially when there is no pardon of such conduct for violations of state law.