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Senator James Sanders, Jr.
Senator James Sanders, Jr.

BY STATE SENATOR JAMES SANDERS, JR.

It was all just a joke – that’s what the White House said in defense of President Trump – who late last month told some police officers that they shouldn’t be nice when transporting suspects.

He made light of how police ensure that suspects don’t hit their head on the roof of the police car when getting in to be transported.

Trump said: “Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their 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, O.K.?”

It was July 28, 2017, the morning after the failure of his healthcare reform measure and Trump was giving a speech to law enforcement in Suffolk County, Long Island.

Whether Trump considered this a joke – an unfunny one, to be sure – it is dangerous.

This wink and a nod is giving a green light to bad policing. When Trump gave his speech where he made these callous remarks, it was disturbing how many police in the audience clapped and cheered with approval. Perhaps, they were just trying to be polite. However, what message does this send when people see the Commander-in-Chief justify, and even advocate, police brutality?

Policing is an extremely important role of the government because it ensures that our nation’s citizens are protected. Their actions and attitude determine whether or not people will respect the law and follow it, or see it as unjust. For, no matter how righteous the law, if it is brutally enforced, people will see it as evil.

A violent police force loses the respect of the people with which it interacts. We have seen this in Chicago, where violent policing, without regard for the communities it serves, has let the city spin out of control. Harshness does not discipline society into order. It does just the opposite; it deteriorates respect for the law.

Now, let us look at New York City. We have been moving in the right direction, but we have a lot further to go. We have put an end to the unconstitutional use of stop and frisk, and made positive steps towards community policing. However, we also had incidents like that of Eric Gardner, who was allegedly choked to death by the NYPD, for allegedly selling loose cigarettes.

I think we can agree that there are some bad apples among the ranks, but there are also good officers who are responsive to the needs of residents, target pervasive crimes in the community and inspire respect for the law. If Trump’s gets his way, it would be a terrible setback and erase all of the hard work we have accomplished towards improving police-community relations. The friendly family-like atmosphere we see at the National Night Out Against Crime, for example, would be washed away.

The numbers show that New York’s community policing system gets results, even if it is far from perfect. The homicide rate in New York City is less than half of Los Angeles and less than a fifth of Chicago’s. That’s not because we’re tougher. In fact, New York State’s incarceration rate is 25% lower than either California or Illinois.  

Obviously, we know Trump isn’t hung up on policy details. All he means is that the police should be treating young, men of color as the enemies of law enforcement. It is alarming that he delivered this message so close to home, and we must do everything we can to ensure his vision – both immoral and wrong on the facts – remains foreign to us.

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