A graduate of the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, George Cassidy Payne is a SUNY Adjunct Humanities Instructor. He serves on the National Council of The Fellowship of Reconciliation, the nation’s oldest peace and justice organization. In 2014 he founded the online educational resource called Gandhi Earth Keepers International.
Trump’s Support of Police is All Rhetoric
President Trump recently addressed law enforcement and family members of the fallen at the 36th Annual National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service outside the U.S. Capitol. In this speech he reaffirmed his campaign promises to restore justice and end attacks on police.
“As President, my highest duty is to keep America safe. We will keep America safe. And included in safe means safe from crimes, safe from terrorism, and safe from all enemies, foreign and domestic. At the center of that duty is the requirement to ensure that our law enforcement personnel are given the tools and resources they need to do their jobs and to come home to their families safely….You are the Thin Blue Line between civilization and chaos. You come from every community and all walks of life. You are mothers and fathers and sons and daughters. You rush into unknown danger, risking your lives for people you have never met, people you don’t know, performing your duty under the most difficult conditions — and often without any thanks at all.”
As much as I agree with the president’s sentiments about the bravery and dedication of most police officers, I cannot help but see through the hypocrisy of these words.
Take for example the criminalizing of nonviolent marijuana users, which seems to be a priority of the Trump-Sessions Justice Department. Studies show that legalizing marijuana greatly reduces the burden of America’s prison system on taxpayers. The population in America’s jails and prisons has grown to 6.9 million, including those on probation and parole. In prosecuting and policing individuals with regards to marijuana, between $7 billion and $10 billion is spent annually. Ninety percent of those cases were for possession only. According to the Justice Department’s own data, there are more arrests made on marijuana charges than violent crimes combined (e.g., assault, rape, robbery and murder).
The war on drugs, as it is being waged under Trump’s new administration, takes resources away from the police and makes them less capable of responding to the highest needs in our communities. It is a waste of taxpayer dollars and an extremely reckless policy for local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to uphold. Most police officers that I know would rather risk their lives trying to save a victim of sexual assault or finding a lost child than arresting kids smoking and/or selling reefer.
Even more disconcerting is Trump’s massive reduction in spending on vital social services which directly impact the day to day lives of police officers. For instance, every weekday, millions of children from some of the poorest parts of the United States remain after school for programs that aim to enhance not only academic performance, but also build social skills and foster relationships with healthy adults. These kids get a safe and enriching place to spend the afternoon and early evening, and their working parents can take advantage of free child care. Threatened by his proposal to eliminate $1.2 billion in grants for after-school and summer programs, many of these services could go extinct.
If this were to happen it would be immeasurably counterproductive-that is if reducing crime and violence against the police is the goal. Every $1 invested in after-school programs saves $9 by increasing kids’ future earning potential, improving their performance at school, and reducing crime and welfare costs, according to a study by the Rose Institute at Claremont McKenna College. What is clear from the research is that regular participation in after-school programs and community learning centers increases achievement in math and reading, school attendance, homework completion, class participation, improved classroom behavior and lower dropout rates.
Put in starker terms, kids who do not have these programs turn to gangs, rely on heavy drug use, and ultimately commit crimes. Kids who do not have these programs, sometimes end up shooting police officers. The direct correlation is there, but the president refuses to make the connection.
The same can be said for his stance on public education. The Trump budget would slash $9 billion—13 percent of the U.S. Department of Education’s funding—while investing $1.4 billion of new money in school choice, including private school vouchers.
In addition to cutting supports to teachers and after-school programs, this budget eliminates funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service, or CNCS, which provides volunteer support and educational awards for teachers in training and out-of-school time programming. A majority of competitive grant awardees in the AmeriCorps program, the largest CNCS program, go to educational programs in schools and serve students in 41 states and Washington, D.C.
What is more, Academy Charter Schools, Teacher Residencies, Reading Corps, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and Teach For America could be severely crippled under the president’s proposed budget. Without these programs, police officers across the nation can expect to be dealing with youth and immature adults who are less educated and community oriented, less civil in general, drastically poorer, and far more apt to make violent choices.
Lastly, there has long been a tension between the interests of law enforcement and the efforts to roll back gun regulations, but the conflicts will become more frequent as gun rights are expanded under the Trump administration. Police departments across the nation have insisted that gun owners be required to receive training, as their officers do, and that people with violent histories, who are more likely to clash with the police, be stopped from obtaining weapons.
Maine has recently enacted a law allowing people to carry concealed weapons without a permit or training, despite the objections of Michael Sauschuck, the police chief in Portland, the state’s largest city.
“It is absolutely ludicrous to me that we require people to go take a test to get a driver’s license, but we are allowing people to carry a deadly weapon on their person without any procedures regulating it,” Chief Sauschuck said.
I could go on. Trumpcare, lopsided defense spending, the president’s record of homophobic and sexist remarks on the campaign trail, and his paternalistic comments about African Americans and the Black Lives Matter Movement, also contribute to increased risks for police officers who are asked to serve and protect an increasingly agitated and under-resourced public.
There is a relationship between public education and crime; there is a link between the war on drugs and attacks on police; there is a direct line from poverty to prison; and there is a difference between truly supporting police officers and making hyped up speeches at memorial day celebrations. If Donald Trump truly cared about the safety of police officers, his policies would reflect this concern. As usual, the president is all bluster and no substance.
George Cassidy Payne
AmeriCorps Member (2009-10)