11 Republican attorneys general ask Congress to shut down criticism of police

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The GOP attorneys general want lawmakers' 'assistance in tempering the anti-police rhetoric that is jeopardizing the safety of our officers.'

Eleven Republican state attorneys general signed on to a letter to Congress this week to complain that people are saying critical things about law enforcement and to demand that Congress take some kind of action to stop it.

The letter, spearheaded by Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, praises law enforcement and asks House and Senate leadership to assist in quelling anti-police sentiments: "We especially rely on you, as the leaders of the most important legislative body in the world, to discourage dangerous disinformation and to help us restore the country’s faith in the overwhelming majority of law-enforcement officers who perform their jobs honorably and bring stability to our cities and states."

The other attorneys general who signed on to the letter were Leslie Rutledge of Arkansas, Curtis Hill of Indiana, Lynn Fitch of Mississippi, Doug Peterson of Nebraska, Wayne Stenehjem of North Dakota, Dave Yost of Ohio, Mike Hunter of Oklahoma, Alan Wilson of South Carolina, and Ken Paxton of Texas. The Western States Sheriffs Association and Southwestern Border Sheriffs Association also signed on to the letter.

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After a lengthy defense of the role and work of police in America, the attorneys general complained, "Individuals, including members of Congress, are dangerously fanning the flames of emotion by tacitly or explicitly supporting the 'Defund the Police' (or worse) movement," which, they say, is "inciting chaos."

Democrats in Congress have gone out of their way to avoid the political minefield that is the "defund the police" movement, with House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn telling colleagues, "This movement today, some people tried to hijack it. Don't let yourselves be drawn into the debate about defunding police forces."

The authors of the attorney generals' letter acknowledge that it is "possible to support law enforcement and also speak out against the actions of those individuals who dishonor the badge," but offer no specific suggestions for what Congress should do to stop its members and the public from using what they call "anti-police rhetoric."

The First Amendment prohibits Congress from making any law "abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." Article I, Section 6 of the Constitution protects "any Speech or Debate in either House" by members of Congress.

The letter comes as protesters around the world are demanding actions to address systemic racism in policing. The push has been fueled in part by the May death of Black Minneapolis resident George Floyd after a white police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes.

Lawmakers in both parties have called for change.

"The killing of George Floyd has sparked a reform movement that must be answered at the federal, state and local levels," tweeted Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL), last week.

"This is a time for us to do what is right and necessary to end the kind of violence and murder and unaccountability that we see that is too endemic in our nation,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) urged earlier this month.

In press statements, three of the attorneys general who signed the letter elaborated on their support for its contents.

"The four officers responsible for George Floyd's death showed the world that they were unworthy of the badge. But their actions are not representative of the hundreds of thousands of officers who honorably serve and protect Americans every day," Hill, of Indiana, said. "We must always strive to improve our policing efforts, but at the end of the day, Americans need police officers. And right now, police officers need our support."

"The vast majority of law enforcement officers across our country act prudently, professionally and heroically; however, when our nation's leaders fail to fight back against disinformation or even spread it themselves, peace officer's [sic] lives are endangered," wrote Texas' Paxton. "Many law-enforcement agencies have instituted policies, reexamined training and protocols, and rightly worked with their local communities to build trust and encourage problem solving. Condemning all peace officers, due to the actions of a few, could incite chaos and anarchy."

The office of Alabama's attorney general said that Marshall and his colleagues are "calling on Congress to join them in tempering anti-police rhetoric that is jeopardizing the safety of law enforcement."

None of the 11 attorneys general provided specifics in response to an inquiry about what steps Congress should take to change the rhetoric.

A spokesperson for Hill pointed to the Indiana attorney general's press release and his previous opinion pieces about race relations and police reform.

A spokesperson for North Dakota's Stenehjem wrote, "You may wish to contact the lead state, or Congressional leaders."

The others did not provide a response.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.