Arrogance by police often mirrors the stance of individuals above the cops.
I was in Manhattan two decades ago to give a lecture. A squad car with flashing lights was suddenly behind me. I pulled to the curb and got out of my car. My attire included a classic Brooks Brothers blue blazer and my auto had an NYP plate which in New York State signifies my being a working journalist.
Nevertheless, the two officers leaped from their squad car and pointed guns at me. I asked what the problem was. I was told one of my brake lights was out.
Later, I saw a group of police nearby, a sergeant among them, and discussed what had transpired and whether the use of guns was necessary. The sergeant explained: “It’s Giuliani time!” referring to then New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
I’ve long wondered what would have happened if I were black.
For almost four terrible years now, the person whom Giuliani most recently served as his personal lawyer, Donald Trump, has been president of the United States.
As demonstrations continue being held in the U.S. to protest the killing by a policeman in Minneapolis of yet another unarmed African-American, George Floyd, and police brutality and police racism in general, Trump’s involvement in inciting police violence needs to be fully recognized.
I live on Long Island, New York where Trump visited in 2017 and, addressing an auditorium full of police, encouraged them to be more violent in handling prisoners.
“Please don’t be too nice,” he told the audience in Brentwood, a largely Latino community where my family once lived. He spoke of the precautions typically taken when police place a hand on an arrestee’s head while they’re being put in a police car to protect them. “When you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head you know, the way you put their hand over [their head],” Trump said, mimicking the motion….”You can take the hand away, OK?’
Trump went on: “I have to tell you, you know, the laws are so horrendously stacked against us, because for years and years, they’ve been made to protect the criminal. Totally made to protect the criminal. Not the officers. You do something wrong, you’re in more jeopardy than they are.”
He praised the roughness of agents of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “They’re rough guys, they’re rough.”
The American Civil Liberties Union issued a statement declaring: “By encouraging police to dole out extra pain at will, the president is urging a kind of lawlessness that already imperils the health and lives of people of color at shameful rates.” Written by Jeffery Robinson, deputy legal director at of the ACLU and director of its Trone Center for Justice and Equality, it continued: “Innocent until proven guilty? Our president would rather not bother with that, expanding the role of the police officer to include judge, jury, and executioner. This country is weary of the type of policing that Trump espouses.”
The Suffolk County Police Department, the main police force in the county in which Trump spoke, issued two tweets following Trumps speech. One said: “The SCPD has strict rules & procedures relating to the handling of prisoners. Violations of those rules are treated extremely seriously.” A subsequent one said: “As a department, we do not and will not tolerate roughing up of prisoners.”
But when Trump came to Minneapolis last year and spoke on “issues of law and order,’ this was not the perspective of Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the Minneapolis Police Federation. At a rally, Trump declared: “I’ve been good to law enforcement. I love the cops. The respect that we have for law enforcement is unbounded.”
And Lt. Kroll—wearing a red “Cops for Trump” T-shirt—then took the stage with Trump and slammed former President Barack Obama’s “handcuffing and oppression of police” and praised Trump. Said Kroll: “The first thing President Trump did when he took office was turn that around … he decided to start to let cops do their job.” Kroll closed by declaring: ““Debate the facts with the left. And when their facts don’t hold up for their debate, wait to be called a racist. That’s the easy way out, right?” “Cops for Trump’ T-shirts were sold at the rally.
Trump has long relished violence.
Running for the presidency, during a stop in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he encouraged his supporters to assault protesters. “Knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously, OK? I promise you I will pay for the legal fees,” he said. At a Las Vegas rally later in the month, he said security guards were being too gentle with a protester. “I’d like to punch him in the face,” said Trump.
In Trump’s 1987 book, The Art of the Deal, he related: “Even in elementary school, I was a very assertive, aggressive kid. In the second grade I actually gave a teacher a black eye—I punched my music teacher because I didn’t think he knew anything about music.”
This month in describing the deployment of the National Guard in Minneapolis and its use of force, including tear gas, on protesters, he called it a “beautiful scene.”
“For Trump, the time is always ripe to throw kerosene on his own dumpster fire,” wrote Richard Wolffe in his article this month in The Guardian headlined: “Trump has reached the ‘mad emperor’ stage, and it’s terrifying to behold.”
“In other crises, in other eras, there have been presidents who understand their most basic duty: to calm the violence and protect the people. In this crisis, however, we have a president who built his entire political career as a gold-painted tower to incite violence,” he said.
There was the scene blocks from the White House recently so Trump could do a “photo op” holding up a Bible in front of a nearby church.
As The New York Times related: “After a day in which he berated ‘weak’ governors and lectured them to ‘dominate’ the demonstrators, the president emerged from the White House, followed by a phalanx of aides and Secret Service agents as he made his way to the church, where he posed stern-faced, holding up a Bible that his daughter pulled out of her $1,540 MaxMara bag.” Protesters were removed violently from Lafayette Park between the White House and church. A “police action cleared the way for the photo op….What ensued,” reported The Times,“was a burst of violence unlike any seen in the shadow of the White House in generations…Some form of chemical agent was fired at protesters, flash bang grenades went off and mounted police moved toward the crowds….The scene of mayhem that preceded the walk—barely 1,000 feet from the symbol of American democracy—evoked images more commonly associated with authoritarian countries, but that did not bother the president, who had long flirted with overseas strongmen and has expressed envy of their ability to dominate.
It’s not that, on their own, some cops, corrupted by the power of their uniform and gun, cannot—and regularly do—turn to brutality. The systemic racism that for centuries has marbled U.S. culture has a major role in police behavior.
Still, a mayor of New York City, or Trump, president of the United States—with a violent streak a mile-wide—can spread violence. It can be as contagious as Covid-19.
The huge changes needed in reforming police in the U.S. must be made.
And “Trump time” must go. The sooner Trump is out, the better for this country and world—for this is the violent person who while running for president asked a foreign policy specialist advising him why, if the U.S. has nuclear weapons, “we can’t use them.”