Donald Trump

There's Nothing Funny About Trump's Troubling Policing Edicts

The president is sending a message that law enforcement has more latitude now to bend and break the rules.


During a July speech to police in Long Island, Donald Trump joked that when officers "put somebody in the car and you're protecting their head" that "you can take the hand away, okay?"

Many of the cops laughed approvingly, but civil liberties groups—and even some law-enforcement officials—were upset that the president made light of police brutality, especially given some troubling nationally publicized incidents.

Trump's defenders argued that he was only joking about the treatment of killers, and that the rest of us need to lighten up. Didn't Ronald Reagan joke about bombing Russia as he prepared for a radio address? Well, yes. But those arguments aren't persuasive given that the administration's actual policing policies seem likely to encourage abusive police behavior in a variety of ways.

Even the Republican-controlled House of Representatives seems to understand that point. Last Tuesday, the House overwhelmingly approved amendments to a spending bill that try to limit the U.S. Justice Department's efforts to let police officers expand the use of a policy known as "civil asset forfeiture." Some forms of forfeiture have been around for centuries, but it really ramped up in the early days of the drug war, with policies designed to let police grab property and proceeds from major drug enterprises.

Like most government programs, it expanded beyond recognition. It's turned into an astoundingly abusive process by which police seize the property of people who have never been convicted—or even accused—of a crime. In 2012 in Anaheim, federal authorities tried to seize a $1.5 million commercial building from its owner after one of his tenants, a medical-marijuana clinic, was accused of selling $37 in marijuana to an undercover cop. The feds eventually dropped the case amid blistering media coverage, but it shows how seriously this power can be abused.

Many states, including California, have passed laws requiring police agencies to gain a conviction (in most cases) before taking a person's property. To get around those laws, local cops would "partner" with federal agencies and then operate under looser federal standards. After the property was taken, the local and federal folks would divvy up the proceeds—and then use the money to bolster their departmental budgets.

Two Justice Department officials who helped start the program in the 1980s later argued that the process "has turned into an evil itself, with the corruption it engendered among government and law enforcement coming to clearly outweigh any benefits." The recent House vote seeks to block Attorney General Jeff Sessions from overturning Obama administration rules that put a few limits on these local-federal partnerships.

In another example of the administration's lax attitude toward abusive government practices, Sessions last month decided to restore a federal program that provided rocket launchers, tank-like vehicles and other military gear to local cops. Police departments are supposed to protect and serve the community, not behave like an occupying army.

Before the last administration reined it in, the military acquisition program had gotten out of hand. A San Diego school district received a $730,000 mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) surplus vehicle from the military. Before they were pressured to return it, school officials said, "There will be medical supplies in the vehicle. There will be teddy bears in the vehicle." Oh please. What kind of uprising are these police departments and school security offices trying to subdue?

Years ago, one official told me that his department eschewed high-powered equipment. That's because once the agencies have new toys, they want to use them—even in situations where community policing operations are more appropriate. The equipment encourages police-state tactics. Yet the Trump administration thinks this is a good idea.

Newsweek reported that Sessions in June "submitted a letter asking certain members of Congress to remove federal protections that prevent the Department of Justice from cracking down on medical marijuana patients, cultivators and dispensaries that are in line with state law."

Conservatives often talk about their fealty to the U.S. Constitution. But the 10th Amendment says, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." States clearly have the right to set marijuana policy, yet the feds want to crack down on clinics anyway. Like it or not, California's voters legalized medical marijuana in 1996.

Don't bother arguing that these "law and order" policies are only about the "rule of law." The president last month pardoned Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who had been convicted of criminal contempt, a misdemeanor, for defying a judge's order that his department stop "detaining persons for further investigation without reasonable suspicion that a crime has been or is being committed," according to the verdict.

There's a clear message from the pardon and from the president's actions regarding asset forfeiture, police militarization and the drug war: Law enforcement has more latitude now to bend and break the rules. That certainly is no laughing matter.

This column was first published in the Orange County Register.

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  1. For how much the feds pay attention to the USA Constitution, any more, we might as well use it to wipe our asses with it!

    1. I’m making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life.

      This is what I do…

  2. Years ago, one official told me that his department eschewed high-powered equipment. That’s because once the agencies have new toys, they want to use them?even in situations where community policing operations are more appropriate. The equipment encourages police-state tactics.
    He’s right on the second-hand military equipment, but it’s important to remember that so-called “community policing operations” and “intelligence-driven policing” are every bit as prone to abuse – especially in today’s security-trumps-everything society of cowards.

    ‘Zersetzung’ tactics of psychological harassment leave very little evidence, effectively preventing any recourse by victims (which is why they are now widespread and generally preferred) and are quite effective at neutralizing “problem citizens.” Surreptitious entry into targets’ homes, gaslighting, frame-ups, invasive surveillance and other destabilization protocols are par for the course. The dubious legal foundations, like “parallel construction” have been systematically emplaced for years, and while some Americans wisely anticipate abuses, many fail to realize they’ve been happening!

    Our problem isn’t so much the machinery (to save tax dollars, of course) or even the insane overcriminalization of our nascent police state. It’s the stupidity and servility of the average American who believes that the government and police have their best interests at heart, and can be trusted.The Stasi would be proud!

    1. nascent? nascent?! Get a dictionary pinhead.

  3. I burned a communist flag then took a big shit on the ashes

  4. Troubling examples, but you had to exaggerate your point:

    “Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who had been convicted of criminal contempt, a misdemeanor, for defying a judge’s order that his department stop “detaining persons for further investigation without reasonable suspicion that a crime has been or is being committed,” according to the verdict.”

    I believe this means that the county sheriff’s department was, by this language, prohibited from enforcing federal immigration statutes – violations of which are apparently not considered crimes.

    So if you think that local enforcement of federal immigration statutes violates the rule of law, make that argument – don’t simply supply an outraged bullet point which omits the immigration controversy altogether.

    1. And why is pardoning a misdemeanor violator such a horrible thing?

      The messed-up part is that a sheriff violating what the judge intended as a pro-civil-liberties order…is considered only a misdemeanor. Why wouldn’t it be a felony for a chief law officer to defy a court order designed to protect human rights?

      The answer is that the judge *could* have classified the alleged offense as a felony…at the cost of having to give Arpaio a trial by jury.

      Only by downgrading the offense to a misdemeanor could the judge avoid a jury and decide for himself the question of guilt or innocence.

      So the system should live by the consequences of its own decisions…Arpaio committed a mere misdemeanor, so pardoning him isn’t that big of a deal.

      1. Agree with everything here. While the judge’s misdemeanor is to be questioned, at least the system let the judge be a judge, and not, say, Congress tying the judges arms by encroaching on the judicial process (like they seem to do with all kinds of other offenses).

      2. It’s about Trump’s reasoning. He pardoned Arpaio because he endorses his method of policing. And the hypocrisy of the “The law is the law, we have to enforce” crowd endorsing no consequences for Arpaio’s violations of the law is breathtaking.

        1. People are often prosecuted for the wrong thing – I don’t think this case was about the woman giving birth in shackles or the other clear abuses.

    2. Arpaio didn’t just “enforce federal law,” his department systemically violated the fourth and fourteenth amendment in the course of their operation.

      1. But I don’t think that was the basis of his misdemeanor conviction – and systemic violations of the 4th and 14th Amendments ought to be felonies. Of course, prosecuting such acts as felonies would require a jury. Indeed, the 6th Amendment says “all” criminal prosecutions, not distinguishing between felonies and misdemeanors.

      2. Bullsh*t he enforced the law all to well and the illegal advocates didn’t like that. Prison is supposed to be a tough in hospitable place no one wants to go back too. This contempt charge was simply a way to exact revenge otherwise they would have had charges against him long ago.

        1. I’ve read Reason’s coverage of some of Arpaio’s other fun and games – to me he’s not a sympathetic character.

          Obviously, whether he’s a sympathetic character has nothing to do with whether the court respected his rights in this specific case.

  5. Like everything done to excess, there will be a backlash. BLM is a small and shoddy example. As cops set themselves outside polite society, so will impolite society eventually exact its revenge.

    * Their huge pensions and disability scams will bankrupt cities. Active duty and retired cops will start squabbling over a smaller and smaller pie, retired cops will lose, and they will join the backlash.

    * Their isolation from polite society will make them easier targets for polite society.

    I don’t know the end game, but there will be a comeuppance.

  6. “Police departments are supposed to protect and serve the community, not behave like an occupying army.”

    Are they? The SC had clearly ruled that the police don’t have any duty to protect anyone.

    1. Those decisions were to protect specific individuals who had called them for help. Protecting the collective community has never been tested, legally, AFAIK.

      1. How would such a test be conducted?

        1. Supreme Court case

    2. Police are supposed to enforce the law. But laws themselves are supposed to protect the rights of individuals. That’s where the disconnect lies.

      1. Actually police don’t enforce the law. That is the function of the court system.

        The police merely arrest the accused.

  7. We didn’t have any police abuse before Trump and no one can joke or have any sort of humor on a subject or someone will get triggered. AND IT WILL BE ALL YOUR FAULT, FUNNY MAN!

    1. “We didn’t have any police abuse before Trump”

      Oh, please, Trump is trying to reinstate certain abuses which others have previously tried to reform – specifically in regard to respecting state civil-forfeiture and medical MJ laws. Even after Sessions stabbed him in the back, Trump lets Sessions try to roll back reforms which give a minimum of respect to state laws – state laws which are more freedom-protective than federal law.

      Trump can joke all he wants so long as he agrees to get behind these reforms, and even expand on them so as to respect state laws even more.

      Please state the argument *against* respecting state laws on civil forfeiture and medical MJ.

      1. I see there was no response on my request…maybe if I posted the request on some site which is into the War On Drugs.

        “You see, [explanation of harmful effects of marijuana] [gateway drug argument], [UN drug treaties require etc.], [it’s interstate commerce because the Supreme Court says so, you anarchist], so you druggies just have to let Trump enforce the law!”

        1. There, I defended the federal ban on medical mj, let’s do civil forfeiture:

          “[statistics about drug smugglers using highways] [long-established law-enforcement tool] [don’t be fooled by some sob-story anecdotes] [safeguards in place to protect the truly innocent] [interstate commerce, bitches!]”

          Just pad it with some more rhetoric and voila!

          1. Add some language about the brave men and women of law enforcement putting their lives on the line every day to protect our children from the scourge of drugs…take some potshots (ha!) at hippies and leftists…I think I could pass the Turing test if I wanted.

            1. The Turing Test determines if you *have* intelligence, Lily.

              1. …by which I mean that, if you are attempting to imitate a statist, you wouldn’t be able to pass it.

                1. Too optimistic…lots of intelligent people believe in a powerful state…

                  1. Or, wait, was that an insult?

                    I’m too dumb to tell.

                    1. Anyway, in case it was an insult…yo momma wouldn’t be able to pass the Turing Test.

                    2. The second comment was to clarify that it was not an insult. And my mother definitely wouldn’t be able to pass it, her being a hamster and all. (She was the best my father could get, owing to how strongly he smelt of elderberries).

    2. Reason has been covering police abuse since at least 1969.

      1. I recall clearly that Nixon National Socialism covered These States with abuse beginning about 1969. Reason was so well hidden that I never discovered it–not even on the UT campus–till 1980!

  8. “What kind of uprising are these police departments and school security offices trying to subdue?”

    Johnson, Micah Xavier.
    Long, Gavin.
    Hodgkinson, James.
    Roof, Dylann.
    Mateen, Omar.
    Farook, Syed.
    Malik, Tashfeen.

    Oh, and they’re getting *grenade*, not *rocket*, launchers. Launchers that will be loaded exclusively with CS or beanbags. Along with Lvl IV plate carriers and MRAPs that would have been thrown on the pile of GWOT wasteful expenditures otherwise, and which will be used to protect officers from the 5.56 and 7.62mm rounds that WE want people to be able to own, remember? What kind of dickhead expects cops to be the only ones without protection in a enthusiastically heavily armed society? The only outrage is that we can’t buy Bearcats too.

    None of this subtracts from the pathetic statism of the rest of Sessions’s Christmas list. But the military hand-me-down programs don’t belong on the Libertarian shit list. Military gear is scary to the guy on the street, I guess, but please note that all of the various abuses made by police against civilians in this country have been via 9mm handguns, batons, rear compartments of fast-moving vans, or chokeholds. Ain’t gotta go cryin’ to Neocons’R’Us (“everything must go!”) to get your tacticool fingerless gloves on those.

  9. ‘When you’re at work you should be free to protest anything you want! As long as your job isn’t President…’

  10. It is not surprising, as Trump from the day he has take up his office, there have been controversies. And people are getting used to it. Even when one talks about the Trump’s policing, one will have to take it in with a pinch of salt.
    Thank you for the post.

  11. If you want me to click the link you will need to provide a better excerpt.

  12. Steven clearly hasn’t read the dedication page of the God’s Own Prohibitionist party platform. The party, not the real estate agent they hired, opens its National Socialist diatribe with mawkish fawning in the lap of its own Waffen SS, excuse me… First Responders.

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