Progress under Obama may be lost as White House transitions to out-of-touch administration
[My recent article in USA Today.]
I am worried about the future of people of color in America, especially when it comes to policing.
No, I didn’t vote for President-elect Donald Trump. But that fact no longer matters. What does matter is whether the incoming administration sees the need for improvements in the way law enforcement and our justice system treat and view black and brown people.
By all indications, it does not.
Trump’s campaign promises and Twitter posts show a lack of understanding about the influence that racism, implicit bias and poor training can have on cops when making decisions on our streets, judges when handing down sentences in our courtrooms and guards when interacting with criminals in our prison system.
Trump bragged about being the “law and order” candidate who would end the chaos on America’s streets. He suggested bringing back “stop and frisk” — a policy that has been proven not to work and to be applied with bias — as a means of getting criminals off the streets. He has reportedly retweeted white supremacists known for pushing anti-Black Lives Matter messages.
And it doesn’t appear that he’s given any thought to police use of deadly force. Officers fatally shot nearly 1,000 people last year, according to a Washington Post database. Civilian deaths at the hands of police are on pace to be even higher this year, according to statistics from TheGuardian‘s The Counted project.
Attorney general pick puts progress at risk
Trump’s choice of Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., to head the Department of Justice is even more troubling.
The Alabama senator was turned down for a federal judgeship 30 years ago because the Senate Judiciary Committee deemed him too racist to hold the job. During his tenure as a U.S. attorney in Alabama, he was accused of calling an African American man who worked in his office a “boy” and making inappropriate jokes about the Ku Klux Klan.
Has Sessions suddenly become more civil rights oriented than he was in the past? Will he reconsider his position against federal consent decrees to force states to abide by our Constitution?
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. (Photo: Susan Walsh, AP)
If ever a president wanted to turn back the clock on progress made through the Obama administration’s Department of Justice investigations, Sessions would be the pick to do it. Obama isn’t the first to take a close look at police brutality. President George H. W. Bush investigated the Los Angeles Police Department after the brutal 1991 beating of motorist Rodney King. The brutality was caught on video and broadcast around the world — the first time modern technology was used to expose police brutality on such a broad scale.
That incident showed the nation a lot it wasn’t prepared to deal with: That racism, especially among those in power, was far from over. And that our courts were far from prepared to dole out justice. The police officers involved in that case were acquitted, and riots broke out on the streets of L.A.
Bush said of the verdict that “civil rights leaders with whom I met were stunned. And so was I, and so was Barbara, and so were my kids.”
As much as the King trial and investigation shined a light on the racism that plagued one police department in 1990s America, Obama administration investigations have revealed that these problems aren’t isolated. And that patterns of racial bias and systemic discrimination permeate the actions of police officers and police chiefs and shape law enforcement tactics in multiple departments across the nation. These problems, as President Obama has repeatedly stated, are nothing new.
The task of the next administration will be to build on what has been painstakingly revealed. Officials must ensure that investigations continue and that decrees already handed down to departments in Ferguson, New Orleans, Newark, N.J., and Baltimore are implemented. Results of the Justice Department investigation of the Milwaukee Police Department are set to be released in January.
Can out-of-touch president follow through on Obama legacy?
If Trump, who billed himself as the candidate of the people who understood the needs of the middle class and the struggling, is like most multi-millionaires, he’s likely had little lifetime contact with the poor. Based on the way he referred to immigrants, African Americans and Mexicans during his campaign, I’m guessing he’s also had little lifetime contact with people of color. Those two communities are the most frequently over-policed.
Where’s Trump’s plan for ending that kind of police behavior? How is Sessions qualified to oversee the implementation of the local, state and federal changes required to root out the worst kinds of police biases and discrimination?
I love and believe in this country. I am a veteran, former police chief and a receiver of the benefits of this great nation. America has worked very well for me and my family. But for far too many other families, America has not worked so well. Many of us who call ourselves white, college-educated, upper middle-class, liberals have missed the mark. Too many of our fellow citizens have been left behind and are not so free. They aren’t free enough to pursue the great American Dream and hope for a better and more abundant life for their children.
Yes, I am worried, very worried. I am worried we will forsake our quest for social, economic and racial fairness and that hateful behavior will increase and harm those among us who may somehow be seen as “different.” Most of all, I am worried that our police will be used to normalize this behavior.
I was born just before World War II. I grew up watching terrible, fascist-like behaviors and mob rule take over Germany. All my life, I have mulled over this question: How could the Holocaust have happened in such a cultured, intellectual country?
I married into an immigrant family and have two adopted children of color. I am worried for them and worried for those who now serve in the ranks of our police.
Police are meant to protect and ensure our fundamental democratic values. Leadership matters.