Lead image via Wikimedia Commons
All of America was troubled by the video of Chicago airline police assaulting United Airlines passenger David Dao last week. Sadly, incidents like these seem to be more and more common across the country. This is only one of many egregious and ridiculous overreaches by police since President Trump took office in January. The self-proclaimed “law and order candidate” has gone so far as to name some of his executive orders after the “blue lives matter” movement. Some law enforcement officials have responded to Trump’s support as though his presidency somehow gives them free reign to unleash their darkest, most violent, and most absurd impulses. Of course, a given police officer’s individual actions cannot be directly attributed to Trump, but the Commander-in-Chief’s attitude towards crime and law enforcement has already set the tone for power abuse.
In less than one hundred days in office, the president has emboldened police across the country to double down on the authoritarian tendencies that President Obama’s Justice Department fought against. While police violence became a national concern under the Obama administration, Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions seem to have ushered in an new era where police don’t expect to be held accountable for their actions (not dissimilar to how Trump says he's given the military “total authorization”). From symbolic displays of power to wanton acts of violence to calls to roll back common sense legislation, the police have signaled that they are becoming a more and more authoritarian presence on our nation’s streets under Donald Trump.
Florida Cops Make ISIS-Style Video
“To the dealers I say, enjoy looking over your shoulder, constantly wondering if today’s the day we come for you. Enjoy trying to sleep tonight, wondering if tonight’s the night our SWAT team blows your front door off the hinges.” Apparently, Lake County, Florida’s police department thinks that this is the most effective language in fighting our country’s opioid epidemic, as they released a video filled with violent language and threats on their Facebook page. Rather than looking for methods to engage with the community effectively, these police released a threatening video that looks like it was pulled straight from the ISIS playbook.
Punisher Logos on Squad Cars
Police in Kentucky did little to change the perception that they see themselves as violent vigilantes who are above the law when the plastered their squad cars with the logo of a superhero known as a violent vigilante who is above the law. A Cattlesburg, Kentucky police department put the logo of Marvel super hero The Punisher on their squad cars inlaid with a Blue Lives Matter symbol. After public outrage led them to remove the logo, their chief said, “We’re getting so many calls, and they’re saying that the Punisher logo (means) we’re out to kill people, and that’s not the meaning behind that. That didn’t cross my mind.” Truly inspiring.
Police Beat Jaywalker
Earlier this week, Sacramento Police not only detained a man who was accused of jaywalking, they slammed him to the ground and beat him. Consistent with the newfound cavalier attitude of police departments across the country, the department released a statement insisting they did nothing wrong, saying, "The videos of this incident portray actions and behavior that we would consider unacceptable conduct by a Sacramento Police Officer." While the beating of black men by police officers is nothing new in America, the cavalier response from the Sacramento PD indicates that we really are in a new era of police-community relations.
A Militarized Police
Following a public outcry, President Obama issued an executive order banning police departments from “acquiring tank-like armored vehicles, grenade launchers, and other equipment from the federal government.” On the campaign trail, President Trump promised he would rescind the order, and the Fraternal Order of Police are trying to hold him to his word. The Fraternal Order of Police national president Chuck Canterbury said in statement, “We’re going to remind him of that promise and ask him to deliver.” Since Trump has already passed a trio of executive orders giving police less oversight and more latitude in their work, law enforcement experts expect some of these regulations to be rolled back.
Consent Decrees of the Governed
The renewed aggressive power of police departments isn’t just anecdotal; there is concrete policy being considered at the highest levels to reinforce the authoritarian behavior in US police departments. Jeff Sessions has vowed to roll back many of the reforms and oversight of law enforcement that went into effect during the Obama administration. One of the most controversial of Sessions’ proposals is to remove consent decrees. Under Obama, the Justice Department would issue “consent decrees” to specific police departments. These decrees would, “mandate changes in training and policies like supervision, reporting contacts with the public, conducting searches, using force, de-escalating conflict, handling people with mental illnesses, and race relations.” Rolling back these decrees and the oversight that comes with them will serve as further motivation for police departments to behave autonomously — and often without regard for overstepping boundaries — because Sessions has all but promised those boundaries will not be enforced.
Removing consent decrees would put into law what PDs across the country already seem to feel is implied: they can feel free to behave with a level of aggression approaching military force in their communities, and they won’t be held accountable for their actions.