President Donald Trump today announced a crackdown against violence aimed at police. His Presidential Executive Order on Preventing Violence Against Federal, State, Tribal, and Local Law Enforcement Officers is one of three executive orders he signed today meant to promote “law and order,” which included a conflation of “illegal immigration,” drug trafficking, and violent crime.
While law enforcement officers–like all human beings–deserve to be protected, the immediate purpose of the order is at odds with reality. In most states, there are already serious and stringent enhancements to sentencing, including the death penalty, if a homicide victim is a police officer. Further, in spite of a number of high profile killings of police officers, such killings declined both in 2016 and 2015. In fact, in spite of upticks in crime in three cities, violent crime remains at historic low.
So back on planet Earth, Trump’s assertions of carnage in America’s cities, and that America’s law enforcement officers are under siege just doesn’t comport with reality. So why then is Trump pursuing these matters?
For starters, a number of figures close to him, such as his Attorney General Jeff Sessions, are set on fighting the bi-partisan shift in policy around criminal justice that includes a détente in the failed War on Drugs and efforts to make a dent in mass incarceration. With increased attention being paid to the number of Blacks being killed at the hands of police, the issues of excessive force and racism have also been pushed to the forefront.
To Trump and Jeff Sessions, the Movement for Black Lives and campaigns for police accountability amount to a war on cops which is responsible for the non-existent increase in crime or attacks on law enforcement. During Ted Cruz’s bizarre “War on Police” hearing last year, Sessions stated that because of “marches and protests” police were “sitting under the shade tree.”
The logic here is clear, if you protest against the police, you have blood on your hands. Thus, you should keep quiet. And by equating protesters with violence against law enforcement, it opens the door for repression.
Blue Lives Matter
This isn’t just happening on the federal level. Given the stringent penalties for violence against law enforcement it may seem odd that some are positing that state statutes need to be amended to include law enforcement. Yet, a number of self-described “Blue Lives Matters” bills would do just that.
Blue Lives Matters is, of course, a direct reference to Black Lives Matter. It is an attempt to somehow equate the killing of a law enforcement officer, which carries some of the severest penalties imaginable, with the killing of Blacks by police, crimes that are often committed with impunity. Like Trump and Sessions, proponents of Blue Lives Matter laws have tried to blame the Black Lives Matter movement for placing law enforcement under a state of siege, a notion that is not only not based in fact, but serves to demonize political dissent.
Louisiana has already passed a Blue Lives Matter bill, Mississippi seems poised to enact one, and Wisconsin is considering. A federal version of the bill was introduced into Congress during the last session, and although it languished, a similar bill seems likely to reappear.
So what have Blue Lives Matter bills accomplished? In Louisiana, they have led to individuals who allegedly “resisted arrest” being charged with hate crimes. This means a relatively minor encounter with law enforcement can quickly lead to being charged with a hate crime. In October 2016, an individual was charged with a hate crime for yelling obscenities at police officers during his arrest, though the District Attorney declined to prosecute.
These bills have a number of critics. They have been opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP, and even the United Nations Special Rapporteur On The Rights To Freedom Of Peaceful Assembly And Of Association has raised concerns with them. He said, “unintentional or accidental touching which may easily occur in a context of an assembly could be elevated to a hate crime. Again, such crime conceptions have chilling effects on the exercise of assemblies.”
It goes without saying that no one should ever be the victim of a violent crime, but violent crime is not out of control nor is there a spike in violent crime against police officers, who already receive a number of special protections from such offenses. At time when there is growing concern over systemic racism, unchecked police brutality, mass incarceration, and militarized police being used against protesters, as witnessed at Standing Rock, such claims are not merely factually wrong, they are attempts to create obfuscate the truth and repress social movements.
This rhetoric and the policies that stem from it are not about protecting law enforcement from violence; they are about silencing dissent.