Words matter: Police react to Trump’s speech
Thursday, August 10, 2017
President Donald Trump is known for his inflammatory remarks. But his suggestion that police shouldn't be "too nice" to suspects may be the most dangerous one yet.
For a nation that advocates progress and accountability, instances of police brutality, racial segregation and profiling have filled up the news too much in recent years. These reports, in turn, have incited more cases of negative stereotyping of the police.
While there are bad seeds in every department, tainting the entire police force due to the actions of a few is unfair. But when authority figures openly ask officers to use force, coercion and offensive behavior, things become murky. It propagates the myth that police work is all about violence.
Trump's speech to law enforcement officers and officials has prompted a mixed reaction from police veterans. Charles Ramsey, former police commissioner of Philadelphia and former police chief of Washington, D.C., expressed concern.
Ramsey said these remarks would instantly increase and reinforce the negative stereotype of police that the force has been trying hard to overcome. When you stop shielding detainees' heads during an arrest or cease to be "too nice" to suspects, you are simply violating people's constitutional rights. If the police did that, all we would think is that they are brutal and they use excessive force on a regular basis.
"Nothing could be further from the truth," Ramsey said.
Officers today face intense pressure to act fairly and more transparently. Contrary to what detractors think, the majority of officers operate in a professional manner out there every day. They are there to protect us from crime and take the dangerous people off the streets. And they do so efficiently without using excessive force or violating anyone's rights.
Trump's remarks have put the spotlight back on the use of force. In the last few years, protests against police brutality have increased dramatically. Community-police relations is now one of the most important agendas for every department. Even if Trump's comments were made in jest, they are harmful.
Police officers across the country were quick to dissociate themselves from the comments, including the uniforms who were caught laughing on camera. The Boston Police Department issued a statement that it is committed to helping people, not harming them and will focus on building relationships and trust in its community. The San Diego Police Department and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department have stated that they are committed to providing safety for all, without exceptions, to treating everyone with dignity and respect always.
Twitter feeds from officers across the country reinforce these statements. Among them was Ben Tobias', which immediately went viral. The spokesman with Gainesville Police in Florida tweeted that, "I'm a cop. I do not agree with or condone @POTUS remarks today on police brutality. Those that applauded and cheered should be ashamed."
I'm a cop.— Ben Tobias (@GPDBenTobias) July 28, 2017
I do not agree with or condone @POTUS remarks today on police brutality.
Those that applauded and cheered should be ashamed.
Another veteran, NYPD detective Harry Houck didn't take the comments so seriously. He felt it was lighthearted and meant to lighten the mood. He said officers present there laughed at his remarks, but that did not in any way say that they condone rough treatment. Houck said Trump's comments should be interpreted "as a joke."
But perhaps these inflammatory comments should be not taken as lightly. Officers laughing at these words reinforce the negative impression that they are cruel and don't care about people's rights. As Ramsey so effectively put it,
"This is the President of the United States," Ramsey said. "He's the commander-in-chief, not a stand-up comic. Words matter."
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