When a political candidate puts forth a strident “law and order” message with few specifics, we should all be afraid.
Donald Trump was criticized by pundits and the public for being erratic and unprepared for Monday’s presidential debate, but his ideas for making America’s streets safer were actually worse than any of his statements found wanting by media fact-checkers.
The Republican nominee’s unfettered support of stop-and-frisk, a tactic ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge for the way it was being applied in New York City, was worrisome. It would be disastrous if that policing practice – or any version of it – carried the weight and influence of the Oval Office.
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Imagine a commander in chief who thinks it’s a good idea for police to indiscriminately stop and frisk people based largely on how they look and where they live?
Not only would it complicate public safety efforts in communities such as Sacramento, where citizens and politicians are trying to support the local police while insisting that the department be more transparent when officers use deadly force, it would fan the flames in places such as Charlotte, N.C., the latest city to roil with civil unrest after a questionable police shooting.
Against facts and public opinion, Trump believes the stop-and-frisk policy employed in New York City should be ramped up. Trump said he believes the tactic, which allows officers to stop, question and pat down pedestrians they suspected to have weapons or contraband, reduced crime in New York.
Here is the punchline: It didn’t.
According to a 2013 report produced by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office, only 3 percent of stop-and-frisk arrests actually lead to a conviction.
“No research has proven the effectiveness of New York’s stop-and-frisk regime,” wrote the New York Civil Liberties Union in its opposition to a policy widely used from the 1990s to 2013. “An analysis by the NYCLU revealed that innocent New Yorkers have been subjected to police stops and street interrogations more than 5 million times since 2002, and that black and Latino communities continue to be the overwhelming target of these tactics.”
In 2013, federal judge Shira A. Scheindlin ruled that stop and frisk was a “policy of indirect racial profiling.”
After stop-and-frisk was curtailed, some in the New York media predicted that crime would soar. “Make no mistake – Scheindlin has put New York directly in harm’s way with a ruling that threatens to push the city back toward the ravages of lawlessness and bloodshed,” wrote the New York Daily News editorial board at the time.
But this August, the Daily News reversed course and offered a sheepish mea culpa: “We are delighted to say that we were wrong. ... Not only did crime fail to rise, New York hit record lows,” the paper wrote.
Yet there was Trump on Monday, continuing to promote the untruth that stop-and-frisk reduced crime. It was a fact-defying moment that was drowned out by other head-scratching assertions, such as when Trump said Hillary Clinton lacked the stamina to be president – a loaded comment called sexist by many observers. Trump also defended years of claiming that Barack Obama – the first African American president in U.S. history – was not born in the United States.
These comments were beneath contempt. But Trump’s “law and order” ideas raise the specter of a president disconnected with what’s happening in America’s cities. Embracing stop-and-frisk is little more than a dog whistle meant to attract the older white voters Trump is trying to energize, everyone else be damned.
Presidential support for stop-and-frisk could threaten the hard work of rational people in Sacramento who are trying to make their community safe for everyone. By his own admission, Police Chief Sam Somers Jr. acknowledges that his department is mistrusted in communities where police protection is needed the most.
Those barriers have become even more daunting after two Sacramento officers shot and killed Joseph Mann on July 11 in North Sacramento. Mann’s family has said he was mentally ill. Officers fired 18 rounds, hitting Mann 14 times.
There were understandable questions in the community about the shooting and why police didn’t de-escalate the situation. Sacramento City Council members made a complicated scenario worse by going along with efforts to keep video footage of the shooting from the public. It was only when The Sacramento Bee obtained a video of the shooting that the department and elected officials finally embraced transparency and released more videos of the shooting to the public.
The Mann shooting and its aftermath proved that even in a liberal city like Sacramento, the initial instincts by otherwise progressive council members were to circle the wagons. This underscored the power that police forces have when their officers use deadly force. Sacramento has been revealed as a city that was unprepared to deal with community pushback after the Mann shooting.
Now some council members are struggling to craft policies that provide more clarity for how police shooting information is shared with the public in the future. Those efforts will require cooperation and openness. They will require leaders who support police, understand the dangers that officers face yet also understand that unchecked police authority is unacceptable.
These are complicated issues demanding not only an understanding and acknowledgment of what works and what doesn’t. They demand leaders who worry about everyone and not just the people voting for them. They demand leaders courageous enough to challenge the biases of their supporters instead of encouraging and inflaming those biases.
Trump fails these tests miserably, and communities like Sacramento could pay a heavy price if he finds his way to the Oval Office.