Trump sides with cops instead of their victims in speech on 'safe policing'

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Trump signed an executive order on policing that critics say does little to solve the problem of systemic racism.

Donald Trump on Tuesday signed an executive order that he said will bring changes to police tactics, an attempt to mollify the hundreds of thousands who have taken to the streets to protest police brutality against Black Americans.

The executive order calls for the Department of Justice to come up with proposed reforms based on a set of "guiding principles."

In a speech before signing the executive order, Trump appeared to be more deferential to police than to Black Americans, who are demanding real change in the wake of a spate of black men and women killed by police officers.

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Trump spent little time sympathizing with Black Americans and protesters. He instead used the same kind of violent language he has over the past few weeks to describe the protests.

"There will be no more looting or arson, and the penalty will be very grave for those who get caught," Trump said, focusing on the images seen in the early days of the protests that he's blamed on "antifa" despite no evidence that the loosely organized movement of anti-fascists was behind the destruction.

"Violence and destruction will not be tolerated, we cannot do that," Trump said.

He went on to put words in the mouths of protesters, claiming they want more police — which is arguably the exact opposite of the message they've been sending, as they call on state and local governments to fund more social services rather than expand police power.

"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. And they understand that when you remove the police, you hurt those who have the least, the most."

Trump went on to claim that school choice is the "civil rights of all time in this country," even as protesters are in the streets talking about a completely different civil rights issue — police brutality against Black Americans.

Trump's speech and executive order were immediately met with criticism, including of the fact that Trump stood with law enforcement officers for a photo-op after meeting with the families of Black Americans who were recently killed by police violence.

"We have to stop and slow down for a minute on the optics of that press conference. All I saw were white faces when we're talking about black bodies," Maya Wiley, a civil rights activist and MSNBC legal analyst, said after the speech. (The group of law enforcement officers was mostly white, though there were some Black officers in attendance.) 

The Black families who met with Trump were not seen publicly during the signing, and according to one report, the families opted not to attend the ceremony following a "contentious and emotional meeting" with Trump and Justice Department officials. Lee Merritt, a civil rights attorney representing one of the families, did not immediately respond to a request for comment but tweeted that there had been no "photo op" at the White House Tuesday afternoon.

Ultimately, Trump's signing of the executive order did not betray any change in his tone or attitude on race and police violence or on reforms that even Republicans have called for.

Trump's response to the protests has helped lead to a steep decline in his approval rating, as well as his diminished standing in the polls against presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.