President Trump signed an executive order Tuesday aimed at reducing the fatal encounters between police and minorities that have led to protests nationwide, as a Republican senator broke with the White House on the issue of revoking legal immunity for cops.
The president took the action in a televised event in the White House Rose Garden, flanked by uniformed police and other law enforcement officials, after meeting privately off camera with families of several minorities who were killed in confrontations with police.
On its face, the order seeks to weed out rogue cops. But Mr. Trump made it clear that he is not interested in hindering or defunding police in the wake of riots and looting that came within sight of the White House in recent weeks.
“Americans want law and order,” the president said. “They demand law and order. They may not say it, they may not be talking about it, but that’s what they want. Some of them don’t even know that’s what they want, but that’s what they want.”
Mr. Trump’s action bans police chokeholds except in situations in which the use of deadly force would be legal. It calls on Attorney General William Barr to establish a national database of police officers who use excessive force.
The order also encourages police departments to adopt best practices on de-escalating confrontations with their communities, by making certain Justice Department discretionary grants contingent on department certification in such training.
SEE ALSO: Nancy Pelosi: Donald Trump’s executive order on policing falls ‘seriously short’
It also promotes the use of “co-responders,” such as social workers, to accompany police on nonviolent calls.
The details were the result of “quiet” discussions between the White House and the families of minority victims, and with police officials, said presidential assistant Ja’Ron Smith.
“All of these ideas came from the families, and we got consensus from them and law enforcement. And so what you saw here was the fruit of their labor,” he said.
Mr. Trump took action after weeks of pressure to respond to the death of George Floyd. The black man died May 25 in Minneapolis after a white police officer knelt on his neck on the street for nearly nine minutes. The officer was charged with second-degree murder, and three other officers were accused of aiding and abetting. All four were fired.
Congress also is working on legislation to address policing practices. Mr. Trump pledged in his private meeting with the black families that he will support legislation led by Sen. Tim Scott, South Carolina Republican, one of only three blacks in the Senate.
A rift opened in Republican ranks Tuesday when Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana said he would introduce a bill this week to restrict the “qualified immunity” that protects police from being sued for actions taken during the course of their duties. The White House said it won’t support such a move, and Mr. Scott has called it a “poison pill.”
Mr. Braun said he wants Republicans to be more “aggressive” in addressing policing changes across the country.
“The fact that everybody’s doing something. It’s a watershed moment,” he told reporters. “I’ll be disappointed here if we don’t get support behind reforming qualified immunity.”
He praised the president’s executive order banning chokeholds. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, did not.
“The president’s weak executive order falls sadly and seriously short of what is required to combat the epidemic of racial injustice and police brutality that is murdering hundreds of black Americans,” Mrs. Pelosi said in a statement. “The executive order lacks meaningful, mandatory accountability measures to end misconduct. During this moment of national anguish, we must insist on bold change, not meekly surrender to the bare minimum.”
The Democrats’ bill mandates anti-bias training, imposes national use-of-force standards and makes it easier to sue officers for misconduct in the line of duty. It also bans chokeholds and “no knock” warrants, proposes a national use-of-force standard and creates a national misconduct registry.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said the House measure is “going nowhere” in the Senate.
“It’s basically typical Democratic overreach to try to control everything in Washington,” Mr. McConnell told reporters.
With the competing versions conceivably headed for an impasse, the president said he had done more on police accountability with the stroke of a pen than Democratic rival Joseph R. Biden did in eight years as vice president.
“President Obama and Vice President Biden never even tried to fix this during their eight-year period,” Mr. Trump said. “The reason they didn’t try is because they had no idea how to do it. And it is a complex situation.”
After the shooting death of black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, Mr. Obama convened a task force on policing. During that period, the Black Lives Matters movement emerged, and some police officers were killed in ambushes as protests roiled major cities.
The Obama administration’s panel offered dozens of nonbinding recommendations for better policing practices that were largely ignored by police departments nationwide. A survey in 2016 found that only 15 of the nation’s more than 18,000 departments had adopted the training protocols.
Mr. Obama also tried to stop police departments from obtaining military hardware such as armored vehicles, a demilitarization effort that Mr. Trump sought to reverse.
Liberal groups and human rights organizations said the president’s order is window dressing that won’t change the reality on the streets of distressed communities.
“Police departments already have access to local, state and federal funds to improve their policies and reform their culture, but those incentives have not resulted in meaningful change,” said Ed Chung, vice president for criminal justice reform at the liberal Center for American Progress. “The Trump administration not only rolled back all of the reforms enacted by President Barack Obama but also abdicated its statutory responsibility to investigate police agencies for unconstitutional policing practices. This executive order amounts to lip service and does not make up for the administration’s failures.”
Before signing the order, the president said he met with members of the families of Ahmaud Arbery, Botham Jean, Antoine Rose, Jamel Roberson, Atatiana Jefferson, Michael Dean, Darius Tarver, Cameron Lamb and Everett Palmer.
All of them had been killed in confrontations with police or in racially tinged encounters. Arbery was shot by a white man as he was jogging through a Georgia neighborhood in broad daylight.
The meeting was “very emotional” for the president, said White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.
“It was an opportunity for him to hear one-on-one from these families, the painful and tragic and deeply personal stories of their loss of children — in most cases children, sometimes siblings,” she said. “There were a lot of tears, there was a lot of emotion. And the president was devastated.”
Mr. Trump said in the Rose Garden after the meeting, “To all of the hurting families, I want you to know that all Americans mourn by your side. Your loved ones will not have died in vain. We’re one nation, we grieve together and we heal together. I can never imagine your pain or the depth of your anguish. I can promise to fight for justice for all of our people.”
But he said America needs to find “common ground” and that the vast majority of law enforcement officers are honorable public servants. The president, whose reelection campaign is trying to link Mr. Biden with far-left proponents of defunding police such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, said the movement would lead to anarchy.
“I strongly oppose the radical and dangerous efforts to defend, dismantle and dissolve our police departments, especially now when we’ve achieved the lowest recorded crime rates in recent history,” Mr. Trump said. Americans know the truth. Without police, there’s chaos. Without law, there’s anarchy, and without safety, there’s catastrophe.”