What’s next for rule of law when president calls for police brutality?

Home » What’s next for rule of law when president calls for police brutality?

P20170728SC-0921I couldn’t believe what I heard Friday from the president of the United States. 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 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?” (Official White House transcript of President Trump’s remarks on Friday, January 28, 2017 at 2 p.m. at the Van Nostrand Theatre, Ronkonkoma, New York.)

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.

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.

* This article was originally published in The Seattle Times.