'Respect' in policing is a two-way street, Attorney General Barr
Remember when candidate Donald Trump sought black votes by asking somewhat sarcastically, "What do you have to lose?" One answer now comes from President Trump's chosen attorney general: How about your police protection?
At a Justice Department awards ceremony to honor outstanding police officers Tuesday, Attorney General William Barr called on Americans to recognize the "sacrifice and service that is given by our law enforcement officers" and "to start showing, more than they do, the respect and support that law enforcement deserves."
But then he said something that jerked me alert, and I was not alone. "If communities don't give that support and respect," he continued, "they might find themselves without the police protection they need."
Say what? Efforts by journalists to get some clarification from the Justice Department of which "communities" he was talking about were not successful, but I was not alone in hearing his remarks as a thinly veiled threat to "black communities" -- such places as Chicago, Baltimore, St. Louis and Ferguson, Missouri, that have been the scene of major protests against alleged police misconduct.
Given Barr's reputation as a fierce enforcer of his president's "get tough" authoritarian policies -- much like Jeff Sessions, Trump's previous attorney general -- I didn't expect much more from him.
But respect is a two-way street. As a firm believer in the First Amendment's right to "petition the government a redress of grievances," I'd like to remind our attorney general that communities tend to respect people who respect them.
Barr and other law enforcement officials who would withhold equal rights and respect from the citizens that our police swear to serve and protect don't make a persuasive appeal for our respect.
Barr's analysis reminds me of Rahm Emanuel's comment in October 2015 when he was mayor of Chicago. Speaking onstage with then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch at a national meeting of mayors and police officials, he said Chicago police officers were going "fetal" out of concern that they would get in trouble for actions during arrests, especially now in the age of cellphone video cameras.
Back in Chicago, he stood by his contention. He blamed that new tentativeness, induced by fear for their jobs and reputations, as one cause of the spike in homicides and shootings that had soared then to their highest level in decades.
At the time, the Police Department was sitting on a dashcam video of the shooting a year earlier of Laquan McDonald, a 17-year-old black youth, fatally shot by police who initially reported that the shooting was in self-defense.
After a court ordered police to release the dashcam video of the shooting in November 2015, the world could see that McDonald was stepping away from police officers, not toward them. Officer Jason Van Dyke was found guilty of second-degree murder, but three other officers tried for allegedly trying to cover up events related to the shooting were found not guilty. Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez lost her reelection bid in the fallout from the video. Emanuel, who had been reelected before the release of the video, decided not to run again.
The Justice Department issued a report on the Chicago Police Department in January 2017, the last days of President Barack Obama's administration, that cited serious problems in a police culture of excessive violence, especially against minorities. The department and the city made a preliminary agreement to undertake broad improvements, including new police training to de-escalate confrontations.
Among other reforms, Emanuel created the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force, led by then-president of the Chicago Police Board Lori Lightfoot "to review the system of accountability, oversight and training that is currently in place for Chicago's police officers." Eventually a consent decree was put in place to guide court-ordered police reforms. This year Lightfoot was elected mayor.
Times and perceptions do change -- and the approach to policing is as polarized as ever. Coincidentally, even former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg preceded his announcement of his presidential campaign with an emotional apology for his "stop, question and frisk" policing policy, even though crime statistics in New York were in decline before the policy and continued to decline during and after the policy. Even with that apology, Bloomberg's policing policy may make him toast with black voters.
Meanwhile, Trump -- with Barr's help -- is sticking with his "get tough" policies, which may appeal to his base. It's an approach I don't think a Democrat could even afford to try.
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