Trumps Dangerous Attacks on Rule of Law

Donald Trump continues to attack the rule of law through his continuing comments degrading the FBI, the Justice Department, and federal judges and by recklessly branding his political opponents as criminals. I wrote about this last August in the Seattle Times and it's still true today:

I couldn’t believe what I heard Friday from the president of the United States about the rule of law. Perhaps I shouldn’t be shocked because of all his previous vulgar, disrespectful and downright harmful comments. Maybe that’s his intent, to over time lull the country into stunned silence, a dulled acceptance of his radical, authoritarian mindset.

But it’s a big deal when President Donald Trump attacks the rule of law, the principle that we are governed by laws, standards and broadly accepted norms, not the whims of an individual. These attacks reached an alarmingly dangerous new level when Trump said these words to police officers about the arrest of violent subjects:

“ … when you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon — you just see them thrown in, rough — I said, please don’t be too nice. Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over? Like, don’t hit their head and they’ve just killed somebody — don’t hit their head. I said, you can take the hand away, OK?”

That’s the president encouraging police officers to rough up people they have arrested. Telling police officers not to use their hands to guide an arrestee’s head into the back seat of a patrol car so it doesn’t bang against the door frame. The president was encouraging police misconduct. Shameful.

This on top of his previous attacks on federal judges, the director of the FBI, our intelligence services, the Department of Justice, and his own attorney general. Words matter. Trump’s constant barrage of verbal attacks matters. By his words and behavior, Trump is tearing down the rule of law, the fragile standards and mores built up over generations. The president’s scorn, his contempt, is very damaging. Yes, we have serious problems, especially when it comes to criminal justice, but, believe me, these problems will not be correctly addressed by destroying the rule of law.

Friday’s comments elevated the danger to a new level. Any elected official, but especially the president, who encourages illegal police violence should be roundly condemned. Trump was wrong, absolutely wrong.

The rule of law — and the peace of our communities — is only assured when people respect, understand, and welcome the police and the other elements of local government dedicated to keeping us safe. This doesn’t happen by chance or automatically; it takes intentional effort. It’s hard work building community trust.

We’ve experienced this here in Seattle. Since the Department of Justice issued their report in 2012 about use of force, biased policing and mismanagement of the police department, a lot of people have worked diligently to create sustainable reform — the elected leaders of the city, Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, the Community Police Commission, City Attorney Peter Holmes and his colleagues, civil rights advocates, and, importantly, the women and men of the Seattle Police Department. Excellent progress has been made, as evidenced by the 10 compliance assessments completed by the federal monitor, Merrick Bobb.

Much more remains to be done to make certain the reforms take root and actually change the culture of the police department. For example, we have yet to tackle hiring and promotion standards; how best to structure an in-service leadership academy to prepare future leaders; and how to create a political climate that recognizes the importance of effective policing and civilian oversight, yet doesn’t lead to inappropriate interference — the kind we’ve come to expect from the president at the national level.

The rule of law is a revered treasure of our democracy. It’s clear by his words and actions that President Trump doesn’t share, doesn’t understand and doesn’t care about this fundamental value of America. Let’s stand up and defend the rule of law and condemn those who would tear it down, including the president of the United States.

Trumps Dangerous Attacks on Rule of Law

Donald Trump continues to attack the rule of law through his continuing comments degrading the FBI, the Justice Department, and federal judges and by recklessly branding his political opponents as criminals. I wrote about this last August in the Seattle Times and it's still true today:

I couldn’t believe what I heard Friday from the president of the United States about the rule of law. Perhaps I shouldn’t be shocked because of all his previous vulgar, disrespectful and downright harmful comments. Maybe that’s his intent, to over time lull the country into stunned silence, a dulled acceptance of his radical, authoritarian mindset.

But it’s a big deal when President Donald Trump attacks the rule of law, the principle that we are governed by laws, standards and broadly accepted norms, not the whims of an individual. These attacks reached an alarmingly dangerous new level when Trump said these words to police officers about the arrest of violent subjects:

“ … when you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon — you just see them thrown in, rough — I said, please don’t be too nice. Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over? Like, don’t hit their head and they’ve just killed somebody — don’t hit their head. I said, you can take the hand away, OK?”

That’s the president encouraging police officers to rough up people they have arrested. Telling police officers not to use their hands to guide an arrestee’s head into the back seat of a patrol car so it doesn’t bang against the door frame. The president was encouraging police misconduct. Shameful.

This on top of his previous attacks on federal judges, the director of the FBI, our intelligence services, the Department of Justice, and his own attorney general. Words matter. Trump’s constant barrage of verbal attacks matters. By his words and behavior, Trump is tearing down the rule of law, the fragile standards and mores built up over generations. The president’s scorn, his contempt, is very damaging. Yes, we have serious problems, especially when it comes to criminal justice, but, believe me, these problems will not be correctly addressed by destroying the rule of law.

Friday’s comments elevated the danger to a new level. Any elected official, but especially the president, who encourages illegal police violence should be roundly condemned. Trump was wrong, absolutely wrong.

The rule of law — and the peace of our communities — is only assured when people respect, understand, and welcome the police and the other elements of local government dedicated to keeping us safe. This doesn’t happen by chance or automatically; it takes intentional effort. It’s hard work building community trust.

We’ve experienced this here in Seattle. Since the Department of Justice issued their report in 2012 about use of force, biased policing and mismanagement of the police department, a lot of people have worked diligently to create sustainable reform — the elected leaders of the city, Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, the Community Police Commission, City Attorney Peter Holmes and his colleagues, civil rights advocates, and, importantly, the women and men of the Seattle Police Department. Excellent progress has been made, as evidenced by the 10 compliance assessments completed by the federal monitor, Merrick Bobb.

Much more remains to be done to make certain the reforms take root and actually change the culture of the police department. For example, we have yet to tackle hiring and promotion standards; how best to structure an in-service leadership academy to prepare future leaders; and how to create a political climate that recognizes the importance of effective policing and civilian oversight, yet doesn’t lead to inappropriate interference — the kind we’ve come to expect from the president at the national level.

The rule of law is a revered treasure of our democracy. It’s clear by his words and actions that President Trump doesn’t share, doesn’t understand and doesn’t care about this fundamental value of America. Let’s stand up and defend the rule of law and condemn those who would tear it down, including the president of the United States.

Defending the Rule of Law

ImagesOver the past couple of weeks, it has been suggested that Seattle police officers should not be present at “anti-Trump protests” or instances of nonviolent civil disobedience. Further, the idea has been raised that police officers should be deployed to prevent federal officers from making immigration arrests in the city.

This approach to policing is deeply troubling because it imposes a content or ideological filter over what should be independent, objective decisions to preserve public health and safety. Imagine if the mayor in another city believed that protests

against immigrants, or white nationalist demonstrations, should not have police presence. Take the case of the U.C. Berkeley protests against a planned appearance by former Breitbart contributor Milo Yiannopoulos that resulted in violence and vandalism, or the University of Washington protest against Yiannopoulos that resulted in a shooting. Police presence at demonstrations should be about maintaining safety and rule of law for everyone, regardless of ideology or personal preference.

Denying police services—and using the police as the Mayor’s or Council’s paramilitary body—is a dangerous and irresponsible approach that undermines the essence of policing in a free society. The police should do their work in a fair, professional, and constitutional manner without regard for ideology or any politician’s personal preferences.  

Sir Robert Peel, the founder of the Metropolitan Police in London in 1829, is credited with crafting a set of key principles for just and fair policing. Three of Peel’s principles apply specifically to this issue of political ideology or personal preference driving policing decisions. Here they are:

  • Police depend on the approval and trust of the public to effectively do their jobs.
  • Police must be unwavering in their duties and adherence to the law, maintaining impartiality and avoiding the temptation to be swayed by public opinion.

  • Police must maintain the public favor and cooperation by providing impartial and independent law enforcement services, as opposed to succumbing and pandering to the whims of the public. They must extend the same courtesy and respect to everyone, regardless of economic or social standing.

Peel was right, of course. Today, perhaps more than ever because of our current political climate, we need to reaffirm Peel’s sage counsel. The issue with police presence at protests is not whether they should or should not be present at this protest or that one, but rather that they should help maintain public safety at all protests. We should never base our police services on whether we agree or disagree with a particular political message or motive. Police services need to be based solely on fairness, professionalism, and the Constitutional mandates we all cherish.

City government has been laboring under a federal court mandated consent decree since 2014 to improve police services, reduce the use of force, and remove any hint of bias or prejudice in the delivery of police services. We’ve spent millions of dollars to comply with the federal court’s requirements and will likely spend millions more before we are in full compliance. We’ve revised training for officers and we have tripled the amount of training officers receive. We’ve hired more supervisors. We’ve changed accountability and reporting requirements. We’ve improved transparency. Deploying police services through a political ideology or personal preference filter would run directly counter to this reform work and represent a huge and dangerous step backward.

Take Action Right Now

TrumpWow, what a week we just experienced. The temperament and character of Mr. Trump are on full display; it's not pretty or comforting. In fact, it's downright scary.

A bit unnoticed was the executive order over the weekend reorganizing the National Security Council, the president's most important source of information and counsel on threats to our country. Mr. Trump just removed the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the military's top command group, from the principal's group and replaced him with Steve Bannon, his political strategist and chief ideologue. Really?  

There are two very specific actions people can take right now to counter the dangerous actions Mr. Trump has taken so far.

First, support organizations that are defending our Constitutional freedoms and rights and those who are helping immigrants and refugees. Here are three nonprofit organizations with strong reputations for effective work. Click on their names to join or provide your financial support.

ACLU of Washington (Legal defense and advocacy in support of the rule of law and constitutional principles.)

Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (Direct legal services for immigrants and refugees in Washington state.)

World Relief (The largest resettlement services organization in Washington state; direct services to refugees arriving in USA.)

Second, support an independent, objective and free media. In the face of constant lies from Mr. Trump (click here for an accounting of the lies from his first week in office), and the rise of "fake news," it is imperative that we bolster the news media. Here are three high-quality news media organizations in Seattle worthy of your support.

The Seattle Times (click here to subscribe to our only daily newspaper)

KUOW Radio (click here to provide support to this NPR station, a nonprofit anchor in our community)

Crosscut (click here to provide support to this independent, nonprofit news organization)

These are just a few concrete steps we can take to stand up against this administration's fear-mongering and threats to our basic civil rights, and to make sure our independent news media can continue to highlight the facts.   

 

Repeal the Death Penalty

Yesterday, Gov. Inslee, Attorney General Ferguson, former Attorney General McKenna, and several Democrat and Republican legislators announced they would introduce legislation repealing Washington's death penalty statute. I hope the legislature passes this measure; it's long overdue.

I wrote about this issue in January, 2015. Here are my reasons why we should stop believing in the false promise of the death penalty.