This post is a revised version of my Commentary on this week’s OneMother’sVoice podcast.
“Power corrupts; and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Lord John-Dalberg Acton, 19th century British politician
Before commenting on President Trump’s remarks yesterday to an audience of local, state, and federal law enforcement in Long Island, NY, in the interests of full disclosure, I acknowledge that I come from a family of law enforcement officers–three correctional officers, a NYPD detective, and an NYPD police officer–my father.
So, I respect the difficult job that law enforcement officers do and the dangers that they face every day.
That said, the aforementioned quote by Lord Acton is apropos across the criminal justice spectrum. Police officers, prosecutors, judges, and parole and probation officers have almost absolute power to determine the fates of the individuals they encounter for the good or the bad.
And let’s be clear, under our American legal system, there is (or should be) a presumption of innocence unless and until one is judged by a jury of one’s peers.
For sure, as citizens, we do not want those entrusted with our safety hampered by inadequate training, lack of resources, or public mistrust.
On the other hand, we cannot turn a blind eye to abuses of power. When communities of color view police officers with a wary eye, it creates barriers to effective policing.
So, when President Trump invokes inflammatory rhetoric that pits law enforcement against the public it is sworn to serve, it is dangerous and counterproductive to the goals of keeping communities and police officers safe.
Trumpisms such as these, don’t help:
“When you see these towns and when you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon (paddy wagon?), …please don’t be too nice.”
“For years and years, (laws have) been made to protect the criminal…Totally protect the criminal, not the officers. You do something wrong, you are in more jeopardy than they are. These laws are stacked against you. We’re changing those laws.”
It is this kind of “get tough” thinking that has fueled mass incarceration over the last two decades.
Perhaps, President Trump needs to read the scorecard vis-a-vis police-involved shootings of black males (and females).
It seems that the laws protecting police officers are doing just fine.