Criticized for firing the FBI director, President Trump sought to reinforce his bond with law enforcement Monday, decrying the ambush-style killings of police last year during the Black Lives Matter movement, pledging to restore respect in the White House for police and even illuminating the White House in blue lights.
At a memorial ceremony for fallen officers at the Capitol, Mr. Trump referred to the assassinations of police officers in Dallas, Texas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana during the peak of anti-police protests as “a stain on the very fabric of our society.”
“We are living through an era in which our police have been subject to unfair defamation and vilification, and even worse … hostility and violence,” Mr. Trump said. “More officers were slain last year in ambushes than in any year in more than two decades.”
Mr. Trump seemed to refer to former President Barack Obama when he told the audience of police officials and families of fallen officers, “I want you to know that patriotic Americans of all backgrounds truly support and love our police. A very sad thing is that many of today’s politicians don’t want to say that, don’t want to talk about that because it’s not politically correct or they think it might hurt them with the voters. I will say it and I will talk about it proudly.”
During the ceremony, Mr. Trump tossed a white USA cap to 6-year-old Micah Glasser, son of Phoenix, Arizona, police officer David Glasser, who was killed in shootout a year ago.
The president even put his support for police in lights. The White House was bathed in blue light Monday night, a move that Mr. Obama had resisted.
Some law-enforcement officials criticized Mr. Obama during the height of police-minority tensions, accusing him of emboldening the BLM movement and putting more cops at risk by expressing sympathy for some unarmed minorities killed by police. Mr. Obama convened a task force on police practices in an effort to build better relations between police departments and minority communities.
President Chuck Canterbury of the National Fraternal Order of Police praised Mr. Trump for the shift in tone.
“In his short time in office, he has let America know that our law-enforcement officers are important and that their lives matter,” he said.
The new administration’s attitude toward law enforcement is more than blue lights and warm words. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who attended the ceremony, announced last week that the Justice Department is reversing an Obama administration policy and charging nonviolent, less-serious drug offenders with the most serious provable crimes, including some with mandatory-minimum sentences.
The move runs counter to a push in some states to back away from mandatory-minimum sentences, a trend that his favored by some conservatives who argue that the harsher policies from the “war on drugs” resulted in crowded jails with a higher cost to taxpayers.
A coalition of civil-rights groups plan a rally Tuesday at the Justice Department, to protest that “regressive” penalties for drug offenses will have little impact on public safety, will cost billions of taxpayer dollars, and “disproportionately hurt communities of color.”
And some critics accused Mr. Trump of paying lip service to law enforcement, saying the president would protect more police officers by supporting stricter gun regulations.
“Instead of closing the gaping loopholes in our nation’s gun laws that threaten law enforcement, the Trump administration continues to follow the lead of the Washington gun lobby, who want to make it harder for law enforcement to do their jobs by deregulating silencers, mandating national concealed carry and eliminating gun-free school zones,” said David Chipman, a retired ATF agent who is an adviser for the gun-control group Americans for Responsible Solutions.
Vice President Mike Pence said the administration will honor Mr. Trump’s campaign pledge to restore law and order.
“President Trump stands with the men and women of law enforcement without apology — and he always will,” Mr. Pence said.
At the Peace Officers’ Memorial ceremony, Mr. Trump drew distinctions between himself and Mr. Obama several times without mentioning his predecessor’s name.
He told the audience, “You are entitled to leadership at the highest level that will draw a bright line in the sand, not a red line in the sand that isn’t gone over, but a bright line in the sand. And we will protect you, that I can tell you, and we will say ‘enough is enough.’ “
Mr. Obama had infamously failed to enforce his own “red line in the sand” against Syria after that government’s military launched a chemical-weapons attack in 2013.
Of fallen officers, Mr. Trump said, “We owe it to their memory to put truth before politics, justice before agendas, and to put the safety and security of the American people above everything else.”
While the president didn’t mention Black Lives Matter by name, Mr. Trump said, “The attacks on our police must end, and they must end right now.” He specifically addressed ambushes of police last year in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and in Dallas, Texas.
The president also called for Americans to “end the reckless words of incitement that give rise to danger and give rise to violence” against police.
He said too many Americans “obstruct” the work of law-enforcement. Since Mr. Trump fired FBI Director James B. Comey last week, some Democrats have accused the president of trying to sidetrack the FBI’s investigation of his campaign’s purported ties to Russia.
“It is time to work with our cops, not against them, but to support them in making our streets safe, not to obstruct, which we’re doing,” Mr. Trump said. “True social justice means a future where every child in every neighborhood can play outside without fear, can walk home safely from school and can live out the beautiful dreams that fill their hearts.”
Total law-enforcement officer fatalities through Sunday were up 39 percent over the same period last year, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. Firearms-related fatalities actually dropped slightly during that period, from 18 last year to 16 so far this year.
According to the NLEOMF, law-enforcement fatalities nationwide rose to their highest level in five years in 2016, with 135 officers killed in the line of duty. That was a 10-percent increase over 2015, and the highest total since 2011, when 177 officers were killed.
Firearms-related incidents accounted for the most police deaths in 2016, with 64 officers shot and killed nationwide, a 56-percent increase from 2015. Of the 64 shooting deaths of officers last year, 21 were the result of ambush-style attacks — the highest total in more than two decades.