President Trump announced during a trip to Texas on Thursday steps his administration will take to reduce racial inequalities and combat police brutality.
The comments from Trump, which come after nationwide protests over the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and amid calls by activists to defund police departments, mark the first steps the White House has taken to reform law enforcement agencies in the wake of the national unrest.
The president promised to take steps to increase economic opportunities in minority communities, address the healthcare disparities faced by the black community, lobby Congress to enact school choice, and sign an executive order calling on police departments to adhere to the “most current standards on use of force.”
But Trump made clear, that he would not be advocating for cutting funding to police departments.
“We’re not defunding the police, in fact we’re going the opposite route,” Trump said during his remarks during a roundtable on police reform in Dallas. “We’re going to have stronger police forces.”
Police departments have recently come under renewed scrutiny following the death of Floyd, an unarmed black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for almost nine minutes. Floyd’s death, along with that of Taylor – an EMT in Louisville, Ky. -- fueled nationwide protests and elevated calls among some activists and demonstrators to defund the police.
The “Defund The Police” movement is generally a grassroots effort from groups like Black Lives Matter, who argue that it isn’t necessarily about eliminating police departments or stripping agencies of all of their money. They say it is time for the country to address systemic problems in policing in America and spend more on what communities across the U.S. need, like housing and education.
State and local governments spent $115 billion on policing in 2017, according to data compiled by the Urban Institute.
“Why can’t we look at how it is that we reorganize our priorities, so people don’t have to be in the streets during a national pandemic?" Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza asked during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
While Trump’s pledge to increase funding to healthcare and investment in minority communities may assuage some, he would not back away from his controversial comment that police need to “dominate the streets” and his notion of himself as a law and order president.
"We have to dominate the streets, we can’t let that happen what happened in New York City,” Trump said in reference to the looting and destruction of property that occurred during some of the protests last week. “We have to dominate with compassion.”
Trump’s proposals come just days after Democrats in Congress released their own plan on how to overhaul of police procedures and accountability.
The Justice in Policing Act, the most ambitious law enforcement reform from Congress in years, confronts several aspects of policing that have come under strong criticism, especially as more and more police violence is captured on cellphone video and shared widely across the nation and the world.
The package would limit legal protections for police, create a national database of excessive-force incidents and ban police chokeholds, among other changes.
It would revise the federal criminal police misconduct statute to make it easier to prosecute officers who are involved in “reckless” misconduct and it would change “qualified immunity” protections to more broadly enable damage claims against police in lawsuits.
The legislation would ban racial profiling, boost requirements for police body cameras and limit the transfer of military equipment to local jurisdictions.
Overall, the bill seeks to provide greater transparency of police behavior in several ways. For one, it would grant subpoena power to the Justice Department to conduct “pattern and practice” investigations of potential misconduct and help states conduct independent investigations.
Trump has opposed the plan and characterized Democrats as having “gone CRAZY!”
Trump’s visit to Texas also comes as he is struggling in the polls against presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden. While the president easily won the state in 2016, recent polling shows him and Biden virtually tied in the once deeply red state, and Biden with a commanding lead nationally.
In recent days, the Trump campaign has been attempting to lure away black voters from the Democrats by attacking Biden’s mixed record of racial issues while plugging the successes his administration has had for the demographic.
“We got criminal justice reform passed,” Trump said Thursday. “We achieved the lowest black unemployment in the history of our country prior to the plague coming to our country from China.”
Despite his boasting, the president faces an uphill battle to win over African-American voters.
Even before the recent protests, Biden held an enormous lead in the polls when it comes to black voters, with a Quinnipiac poll in late May showing 81 percent of registered African-American voters supported Biden compared with just 3 percent who backed Trump.