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In remarks delivered Tuesday before he signed an executive order promoting modest police reforms, President Trump lavished praise on the nation’s law enforcement officers, claiming that cops like the ones charged in the killing of George Floyd represent “a small percentage” of the force.
“They have to get our gratitude,” Trump said of the nation’s police officers, “and we have to give them great respect for what they do.”
The event in the White House Rose Garden, which at times felt more like a campaign speech, came after weeks of protest across the country sparked by Floyd’s death beneath the knee of a Minneapolis police officer as other members of that troubled department stood by and watched. Floyd’s death set in motion police reforms in cities and states nationwide as well as calls to radically rethink how law enforcement is carried out, especially against African-Americans.
Trump made clear that he favored less dramatic alternatives.
“I strongly oppose the radical and dangerous efforts to defund, dismantle and dissolve our police departments, especially now when we’ve achieved the lowest recorded crime rates in recent history,” he said. “Americans know the truth: Without police, there is chaos. Without law there is anarchy, and without safety there is catastrophe.”
Steering clear of any mention of Floyd’s death, Trump said the number of “bad police officers” was “very tiny.”
“Nobody needs a strong, trustworthy police force more than those who live in distressed areas, and nobody is more opposed to the small number of bad police officers — and you have them, they’re a very tiny, I use the word ‘tiny,’ it’s a very small percentage, but you have them,” Trump said. “Nobody wants to get rid of them more than the overwhelming number of really good and great police officers, some of which are standing with me and are in the audience today.”
Titled “Safe Policing for Safe Communities,” the executive order that the president signed following his remarks focused on three areas: better police training, the creation of a database to make sure fired officers with numerous complaints against them are not rehired by other departments, and a call for more resources for co-responders on police calls involving mental health and substance abuse problems. Without action from Congress, however, it remains unclear what effect the executive order will have on local police departments.
Ahead of the event, Trump said he had held a meeting with the “incredible families” of Ahmaud Arbery, Botham Jean, Antwon Rose, Jemel Roberson, Atatiana Jefferson, Michael Dean, Darius Tarver, Cameron Lamb and Everett Palmer, all African-Americans, most of whom had recently been killed by police. Yet none of those family members joined the representatives of police organizations who attended the Rose Garden signing along with Republican lawmakers and Cabinet members.
“I gave a commitment to all of those families today, with Sen. Tim Scott and Attorney General Bill Barr, that we are going to pursue what we said. We will be pursuing it and we will be pursuing it strongly,” Trump said.
The president spent much of his press conference talking about matters not related to the reforms proposed in his executive order. He veered off into topics like his administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, job gains realized before the virus swept across America, school choice (which he singled out as the greatest civil rights issue of “all time”) and new retail sales figures.
He also bashed Joe Biden, his presumed Democratic rival in the November election, and former President Barack Obama, saying the two men “never even tried” to address police misconduct during their time in office.
“The reason they didn’t try is because they had no idea how to do it, and it is a complex situation,” Trump said.
Following the 2014 killing of Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Mo., Obama signed an executive order creating a task force to recommend law enforcement reforms. The task force issued detailed recommendations on how to improve policing, but they were not mandatory. Obama also signed an executive order banning the transfer of military surplus to police departments, which Trump swiftly overturned.
In the wake of Floyd’s death, Trump has painted himself as a president of “law and order,” frequently tweeting those three words to his followers. He has also promoted the idea that he draws his support from a “silent majority” of Americans who share his views, and on Tuesday he reinforced that idea.
“Americans want law and order. They demand law and order. They may not say it, they may not be talking about it, but that’s what they want,” Trump said. “Some of them don’t even know that’s what they want, but that’s what they want.”
But after weeks of protests over police misconduct, and with polls showing broad public support for the demonstrations, Trump’s order signaled that the president believes some reforms are needed. His speech also made clear that he thinks that, like himself, most Americans still think highly of law enforcement.
“Americans believe we must support the brave men and women in blue who police our streets and keep us safe,” he said.
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