WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed an executive order directing police departments to adopt new standards for the use of force following protests over the deaths of George Floyd and other African Americans at the hands of law enforcement officers.
The order also calls for the creation of a national database to allow departments to track potential hires with records of abuseand for mental health professionals to respond alongside officers to calls dealing with homelessness, drug addiction and mental illness.
Trump’s event underscored the difficulty he often faces reconciling different viewpoints on a cultural issue that deeply divides the nation. He was flanked by police officials in the Rose Garden but had met beforehand privately with the families of victims, who did not attend the executive order signing. He praised the families and promised justice, but quickly shifted into pro-law enforcement talking points that are a trademark of his campaign rallies.
“To all of the hurting families, I want you to know that all Americans mourn by your side,” Trump said. “Your loved ones will not have died in vain.”
He called the families “incredible,” vowed to pursue justice for them and went on to describe police as “brave,” “selfless” and “courageous.”
“Americans know the truth: Without police there is chaos,” Trump said. “Without law, there is anarchy.”
Trump said the order would prioritize Department of Justice federal grants to police departmentsthat meet higher standards on use-of-force, but it did not mandate that all departments adopt those standards.
The order does not include a ban on chokeholds as many activists have demanded but says chokeholds should only be used in life or death situation.
“Americans want law and order, they demand law and order,” Trump said. “We need to bring law enforcement and communities closer together, not to drive them apart.”
But Trump spent less time attempting to bridge the gap between those who see systemic racism in some police forces and those who feel the deadly confrontations are the work of a few bad cops.
He argued that “reducing crime and raising standards are not opposite goals,” but did not explain in depth how to find common ground.
The orderwas crafted in consultation with law enforcement officials and representatives of the families of victims killed by police, officials said. It remains unclear how the order will be enforced or how law enforcement agencies will be held accountable, but officials pointed to local leaders and mayors who they said would be responsible for their police departments.
While the order is aimed at reforming police training and boosting funding for mental health services, it does not address issues of systemic racism that activists say are crucial to meaningful criminal justice reform.
The White House has pushed back on some activists’ calls for “defunding police,” or reallocating police funding to other community programs. Trump has fiercely defended members of the law enforcement community and has described police brutality as the work of a few “bad apples.”
“The vast majority of police officers are selfless and courageous public servants,” Trump said, adding that they face “great danger.”
He praised officers for putting their “lives at stake to protect someone who they don’t know or never even met” and threatened “grave penalties” for anyone responsible for looting and arson amid ongoing protests.
And he repeatedly framed the debate in partisan terms. He said President Barack Obama had not solved the issue, and vowed to do better than his predecessor. He also held up the push by some on the left to “defund” police departments in the wake of Floyd’s death as “radical and dangerous.”
The president also called on Congress to pass legislation that would allocate funding to incorporate the White House’s programs.
What is qualified immunity? As Congress debates police reform, qualified immunity emerges as key dividing issue
The order comes as congressional Democrats and Republicans are working to pass their own versions of police reform. House Democrats unveiled a bill last week that would ban certain police tactics such as chokeholds, mandate body cameras and curb “qualified immunity,” which shields police officers from civil lawsuits if accused of misconduct. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., who is leading the Republican effort and is expected to unveil legislation in the GOP-led Senate on Wednesday, has said ending qualified immunity was a “non-starter.”
The chambers will have to find a middle ground and garner the approval of Trump before any changes become law.
Floyd died on Memorial Day after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. The incident was captured on camera and sparked national outcry over police brutality and racial injustice. Protests erupted across the country and around the world, and have led to a groundswell of support to pressure lawmakers to address police reform in recent weeks.