President Donald Trump broadly rejected calls to radically overhaul law enforcement or cut officers’ funding amid protests over police brutality and racism, instead calling for new training programs as well as economic development, school choice and improved health care in minority communities.
Trump -- speaking Thursday in Dallas during a roundtable with a group of supporters, including religious leaders, business owners and law enforcement officials -- said he was working to finalize an executive order that called for encouraging “police departments nationwide to meet the most current professional standards for the use of force, including tactics for deescalation.”
But Trump offered scant details on what those programs would look like, beyond a pilot program that could allow social workers to embed with law enforcement. And Trump dismissed the concerns raised by many protesters of systemic problems with law enforcement saying instances of brutality could be chalked up to “bad apples” and there “aren’t too many of them.”
“We’ll take care of our police -- we’re not defunding police,” Trump said. “If anything, we’re going the other route. We’re going to make sure that our police are well-trained, perfectly trained, they have the best equipment.”
The event comes amid nationwide protests calling for policing reform in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, as he was arrested by police in Minneapolis. Trump, who has said he believed the case to be isolated and not evidence of systemic racism in U.S. policing, has nevertheless been weighing executive action or legislation to influence law enforcement agencies.
Despite speculation that the president could unveil parts of that proposal Thursday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters earlier in the morning that the president was seeking stakeholder input to make sure he endorsed a plan that would have an impact but not go too far.
White House spokeswoman Alyssa Farah tweeted Thursday that the administration is “working to finalize an executive order that will encourage Police Departments nationwide to meet the highest standards for the use of force by police officers.”
She said that includes “tactics for de-escalation & mobilizing co-response teams to deal with people who are homeless, on drugs, or dealing with mental health. We will also advise on best practices for hiring, training and community policing.”
Trump said the steps he plans to take would “build safety and opportunity and dignity.”
“At the heart of this effort is increasing access to capital for small businesses, and that’s with minority owners in black communities,” Trump said.
The president’s decision not to focus on racism and brutality among police is likely to fuel the perception that he remains unwilling to grapple with difficult racial issues. Trump has limited his comments on the topic recently, focusing instead on his call for a return to “law and order” amid incidents of violence during demonstrations.
Democratic challenger Joe Biden has seized on Trump’s response.
“For weeks we’ve seen President Trump run away from a meaningful conversation on systemic racism and police brutality,” Biden said in a statement Thursday. “Instead, he’s further divided our country. Today’s trip to Texas won’t change any of that. President Trump is more interested in photo-ops than offering a healing voice as our nation mourns.”
On Wednesday, Trump convened a meeting at the White House with black conservative commentators who praised his response to the unrest. One Republican political consultant at the event, Raynard Jackson, claimed liberal journalists on television were “putting more poison into the black community than any drug dealer” and “killing more black folks than any white person with a sheet over their face” by “spreading lies” about the president’s economic record.
The president also said he opposes any legislation that would change the name of military bases honoring Confederate officers who fought against the Union during the Civil War, declaring in a statement Wednesday his administration “will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations.”
McEnany later said Trump would veto any legislation mandating the change. The threat came as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, called for the removal of statues of Confederate leaders from Capitol Hill and NASCAR announced it would ban Confederate flags at its races.
And while Trump has said that he found the Floyd killing to be outrageous and said he supports protesters gathering peacefully, critics have seized on his administration’s removal of peaceful demonstrators outside the White House last week ahead of a photo op at a nearby church. Trump also drew criticism for publicly backing an unfounded conspiracy theory suggesting an elderly protester injured by police in Buffalo, New York, may have been a member of Antifa, a largely decentralized movement of militant left-wing political activists.
Trump is seeking to tie Biden to activists’ calls to “defund the police” in an attempt to paint his likely 2020 opponent as weak on crime and vilify Democrats pushing for police reform, even though Biden hasn’t embraced the slogan.
Activists who call for defunding police take a range of positions, including shifting money to programs to address economic and social ills that disproportionately affect blacks and other people of color. But the rallying cry evokes the idea of abolishing police, providing a potent attack on Democrats.
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