America has a policing problem and Trump is making it worse

The speech Trump gave on Friday advocating police aggression could get more people killed

By D. Watkins

Editor at Large

Published August 1, 2017 4:58AM (EDT)

 (Getty/Spencer Platt)
(Getty/Spencer Platt)

During a speech in Brentwood, NY, last Friday, President Donald Trump called for police officers, already aggressive and out of control in many communities, to be more aggressive and out of control going forward.

“And when you see these towns and when you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just see them thrown in, rough — I said, please don’t be too nice.” Trump said to a laughing crowd. “Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put the hand over . . . ? Like, don’t hit their head — and they’ve just killed somebody — don’t hit their head? I said, you can take the hand away, OK?”

Once again, Trump is pushing divisive rhetoric that ignites fear, justifies police violence and keeps our country divided. The idea that "all cops are always right all of the time" has been extremely dangerous to civilians. Those in power who continue to push this line of thinking, like Trump, endanger vulnerable people by willfully pushing a false narrative and encouraging a lack of critical thinking on the part of people, leaders and civilians alike, who are fortunate enough not to have to worry about being harassed by law enforcement.

My hometown has been under a microscope since the killing of Freddie Gray, an unarmed African American man who was stopped for no reason in 2015, in police custody. His death sparked a city-wide uprising that received national attention. That attention should have been enough to bring about positive change, as evident by the questions I often hear from folks outside of Baltimore:

“Hey D., how are community relations with the police officers in Baltimore? Did you see any changes after the riots?”

My response is normally something like this: “I know like two or three cops that treat people nice, but I haven’t witnessed any positive changes. Or at least any I’d brag about.”

I try to entertain the “all cops aren’t bad" idea. But I also find myself asking, “if all cops aren’t bad, then why are they silent when their buddies murder innocent people?”

Even though police brutality and killings at the hands of police were a problem before Trump’s first day in office, he hasn't helped. America has a serious problem with policing and his leadership is making it worse. Police officers in this country protect the rich and terrorize the poor; it’s been like that since I was kid, and was like that way before my time. Over and over, we see police officers kill unarmed people, mostly African American men, and not be held accountable. I don’t know people who call the police at all unless they need an insurance report after a break-in or car accident.

So, what has changed in Baltimore? This year, seven Baltimore city police officers were indicted on federal racketeering crimes that ranged from overtime fraud to robbery of one person during a traffic stop and drug dealers all over the city. In one incident, two of the officers stole $20,000 from one group of alleged dealers, split the money, and then robbed an exotic dancer. More charges and new developments continue to come in this case, and of course the president and most government officials have been quiet on the matter.

As the case of the Baltimore 7 continued to unfold, three Baltimore City police officers were caught planting drugs into a fake stash and then using that stash to make an arrest. Luckily the man charged was released shortly after one of the officers' own body cam video showing the evidence planting went viral, but what if the video had never surfaced? The innocent suspect would have still been sitting in jail for a crime he did not commit. More than 100 cases involving these officers are under review by the Baltimore's state's attorney's office, and 34 have already been thrown out. And yet the president can't fix his lips to say anything but how the great the police are?

Donald Trump’s police language is more dangerous than it might appear to some listeners, because some of us have to deal directly with the crooked cops he proudly calls hero. They can lie about us, steal from us and even kill us without being held accountable, and one reason they can get away with it is the country's highest office continues to cosign their actions. As a black American, every time I get in my car, I wonder if it’s going to be the day when a cop plants evidence on me, falsifies a report, or worse — aims his gun in my direction.

By D. Watkins

D. Watkins is an Editor at Large for Salon. He is also a professor at the University of Baltimore and founder of the BMORE Writers Project. Watkins is the author of the New York Times best-selling memoirs “The Beast Side: Living  (and Dying) While Black in America” and "The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir," as well as "We Speak For Ourselves: How Woke Culture Prohibits Progress." His new book, "Black Boy Smile: A Memoir in Moments," is out now.

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