President Trump issues executive orders meant to reform policing, protect monuments from vandalism

New federal police agency targets protesters in Portland and other cities

Protestors+walk+to+Arizona+City+Hall+

Jason White

Protestors walk to Arizona City Hall

Ivana Venema-Nunez , Reporter

Over a month ago, instead of defunding law enforcement, President Trump signed an executive order to offer additional federal funding for law enforcement agencies that plan to change or enhance their training to avoid unlawfully killing suspects.  But recent protests in Portland, Ore. have been met with violence and allegations of police brutality.

Protests around the country decrying police violence and institutional racism have continued nonstop since the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police officers in May.  While many protests have been peaceful, tensions have risen between protesters and police in recent days, according to a BBC article published July 20.

On June 16, Trump signed an executive order titled “Safe Policing for Safe Communities”. During his speech announcing the new order, he stressed the importance of law enforcement to keep communities safe, congratulated police officers who were involved in saving lives and spoke about the prioritization of federal grants from the Department of Justice to police departments.

He explained that police departments seeking independent credentialing must certify that they meet high standards on the use of force.  Deescalation training will be the priority.

Chokeholds will be banned, except if an officer’s life is at risk, according to Trump’s remarks in the speech from June 16.

In addition, Trump cited research on new, advanced and powerful less-lethal weapons to prevent deadly interactions.  He stressed the need to share information about credible abuses of officers so if they are fired, they simply don’t move to another police department. The order will also direct federal funding to support officers in dealing with homelessness and suspects who have mental illness and substance abuse issues.

“What’s needed now is not more stoking of fear and division.  We need to bring law enforcement and communities closer together, not to drive them apart.” Trump said in his speech announcing the executive order.

According to an NPR article published on June 16, the executive order does not address concerns by many that police treat African Americans and people of color unfairly.

Rev. Al Sharpton tweeted right after the speech: “Trump’s executive order is toothless and meaningless. We don’t need studies, we need police that commit crimes to be punished. All police that use chokeholds claim their lives were threatened, what’s new?”

According to the NPR article, the House of Representatives has introduced a bill that would include banning certain measures, including chokeholds.

Last week, federal officers started cracking down on crowds gathering in various cities against the wishes of state and local officials, drawing widespread criticism and legal challenges, according to the BBC article from earlier.

Also, there have been accounts of federal officers in unmarked vehicles appearing to forcefully seize protesters from the streets and detain them without justification.

These federal officers belong to a new federal force created last month by another executive order that Protects American Monuments, Memorials, and Statues and Combating Recent Criminal Violence signed by President Trump.  Many of these federal personnel are drawn from a range of teams including the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency and the US Marshals Service, according to BBC.

When asked about the arrest of a protester, the CBP said the individual was suspected of destroying federal property, according to BBC. They said agents had identified themselves and were wearing CBP insignia but their names were not displayed, allegedly to avoid doxing incidents, or the publishing of private information online, against law enforcement personnel.

In photographs, some CBP agents are in camouflage Border Patrol Tactical Unit, reportedly equivalent to a SWAT team. 

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, a Democrat,  said the “dozens if not hundreds of federal troops” were “sharply escalating the situation”. Wheeler called for the troops to leave the city.

“Their presence here is actually leading to more violence and more vandalism,” Wheeler told CNN on Sunday.

Kate Brown, governor of Oregon, also a Democrat, accused Trump of sending federal troops to the city for “political theatre”.

Last week, the state of Oregon filed a lawsuit against the federal agencies involved, accusing them of unlawfully detaining protesters and according to the BBC article, Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum requested a restraining order to stop agents from arresting people.

While the state of Oregon awaits the outcome of the lawsuit the White House is said to be considering other ways it can use federal law enforcement agencies to quell civil unrest nationwide.