Executive orders signed by President Donald Trump set in motion an agenda for escalating the criminalization of citizens, who engage in protest. This agenda will likely have a disproportionate impact on Black Lives Matter activists, immigrant rights activists, and Native Americans engaged in protest against pipeline projects like the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The executive order aimed at “preventing violence” against police officers calls for a review of existing laws. Following the review, recommendations are to be made to Trump for legislation to protect the safety of police.
“If warranted,” the review may propose “legislation defining new crimes of violence and establishing new mandatory minimum sentences for existing crimes of violence against federal, state, tribal, and local law enforcement officers, as well as for related crimes.”
Such legislation would be particularly useful for law enforcement interested in suppressing dissent against police brutality and direct action in general.
It also would fit into a trend developing as a result of Republican lawmakers, who have introduced anti-protesting legislation in several states. This includes making it a felony punishable up to five years to march on highways and increasing penalties for individuals who “obstruct” oil and gas equipment during environmental protests.
According to Officer Down Memorial, which tracks the deaths of police each year, the average number of police killed in a given year has decreased steadily since President Ronald Reagan. It has gone from around 100 deaths per year to 60-70 deaths per year. In other words, police are safer than ever before in recent United States history.
Nonetheless, the past couple of years have seen a sustained movement to hold police accountable for killing around 1,000 or more people each year and for engaging in force that disproportionately impacts black communities. Police unions have turned to promoting “Blue Lives Matter” campaigns to undermine the work of civil rights groups, and with the election of Trump and the appointment of Jeff Sessions to Attorney General, police now have allies, who will help make America a safer space for them to commit crimes without having to face accountability.
A second executive order on “crime reduction” says it shall be the policy of the executive branch to “reduce crime in America,” as if this is some newfangled policy to fight crime that has not been tried before. It suggests the nation is suffering “high rates of violent crime” and that “illegal immigration, drug trafficking, and violent crime” must be addressed.
A task force will be established by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to “identify deficiencies in existing laws that have made them less effective in reducing crime and propose new legislation that could be enacted to improve public safety and reduce crime.”
The section suggests the Trump administration will push for new criminal statutes and attempt to deal with these issues through policies of mass incarceration.
Trump has distorted and exaggerated the murder rate in the United States. It started when he campaigned for president and claimed the murder rate was the “highest it’s been in 47 years.” He repeated the distortion again when speaking to U.S. sheriffs at the White House on February 7.
The reality is the murder rate is near a 45-year low, but the real statistic will not help Trump spread fear and convince citizens to close borders to immigrants, block refugees, deport undocumented immigrant families, and give police departments greater freedom to use force in their communities. So, Trump, Sessions, and his administration spread propaganda, which numerous establishment media outlets like CNN have debunked.
Jeffery Robinson, deputy Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, reacted, “President Trump intends to build task forces to investigate and stop national trends that don’t exist. We have seen historic lows in the country’s crime rate and a downward trend in killings against police officers since the 1980s. The president not only doesn’t acknowledge these facts about our nation’s safety, he persists in ignoring the all-too-real deaths of black and brown people at the hands of law enforcement.”
Sessions declared, “”We need to end this lawlessness that threatens the public safety, pulls down the wages of working Americans.” However, the Wall Street Journal reported “newcomers to the U.S. are less likely than the native population to commit violent crimes or be incarcerated.” [They also don’t lower or depress wages.]
A third executive order directed at enforcing federal law to combat “transnational criminal organizations” and prevent “international trafficking” once again feeds into a perception that this is somehow new. President Barack Obama, President George W. Bush, and President Bill Clinton each had policies aimed at fighting transnational crime and traffickers.
It declares the purpose of the order is to target transnational criminal organizations that “derive revenue through widespread illegal conduct, including acts of violence and abuse that exhibit a wanton disregard for human life.” It adds that they “have been known to commit brutal murders, rapes, and other barbaric acts,” and the groups are “drivers of crime, corruption, violence, and misery.”
This executive order renews America’s commitment to the futile War On Drugs by pledging to go after the “trafficking by cartels of controlled substances,” which has “triggered a resurgence in deadly drug abuse and a corresponding rise in violent crime related to drugs.”
What slight shift the U.S. government made toward treatment of drug users instead of criminalizing drug users may easily be reversed through the climate created by Trump and Sessions.
Additionally, the targeting of “transnational” crime is directly tied to the anti-immigrant and nativist politics of the administration. It reflects the idea that the vast majority of the problems within the United States are a result of foreign criminals and all the U.S. must do to solve these problems is purge the country of these individuals.
All of which serves to create a dark atmosphere, where dissent against government policies is chilled and suppressed, because the president claims if the country does not take this kind of action it will be detrimental to the safety and security of the nation. It also will potentially prolong the tradition of disinvestment in black and brown low-income communities, which fuels the kind of poverty and despair that leads to the “lawlessness” the Trump administration plans to address.