Last week, President Trump spoke before law officers in Suffolk County, New York at an event meant to fete the administration's efforts to crack down on the international gang MS-13.
During his speech, Trump referenced the police practice of shielding handcuffed suspects’ heads as they lower them into police vehicles. “Don’t be too nice. I said, ‘you could take the hand away OK,’”the president said according to The New York Times.
Criticism of Trump's remarks arose quickly, with some feeling that there are more than enough stories of police already not being very ‘nice,’ and others arguing that the president's words encouraged police brutality.
The White House dismissed the concerns of these critics. CNN reports that the administration claims that the president was only joking.
Although the president may believe his words to be funny, one of the country's top black cops says that they are not. And, that they, in fact, make it harder for policepeople of color to do their jobs by adding stress to already poor relationships between minority communities and police enforcement.
“We live in some of the same communities that are affected by this disparate treatment. We go to church in those neighborhoods. We go to the barbershop. Certain things people don’t realize: It’s really hard being black and being a police officer when these things happen,” Clarence E. Cox III, former chief of Clayton County Schools in Georgia and incoming president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) told CBS News.
With comments such as Trump’s and increasingly publicized police misconduct, black police officers have found themselves in an even more precarious position. Many black police officers find themselves caught between two worlds — their community and their oath to uphold the law.
Black police officers worried about their community’s fraught relationship with the police fear that with Trump’s recent comments, improving that relationship is not becoming any easier.
Also complicating things is the tough-on-crime-agenda of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He spoke before NOBLE this week about policing, telling its officers that he understands their situation.
"You, more than perhaps any other law enforcement organization, represent crucial ambassadors to some of the communities that trust law enforcement the least," Sessions said.
He also took time to promote his efforts to restart the War on Drugs. "We have to send a clear message that drugs are destroying lives. And most importantly, we've got to restore the understanding that heading down the path of drugs is a dead end. It is destructive. Families, careers, college educations are all forfeited when people play around with drugs."
Sessions did not give the same time to his ideas about civil rights. He has said in the past that he intends to roll back on civil rights investigations that the Obama administration pursued in its attempts to rebuild problematic police departments.
Sessions believes that federal intervention only serves to villainize entire departments, and makes officers less effective on the streets. He also believes it is low officer morale that contributes to spikes in violence.
Perry Tarrant, current president of NOBLE and assistant chief of Seattle Police Department, has voiced concerns regarding Session’s shift from civil rights investigations.
Tarrant said, “At the end of the day if you have systemic issues in any organization, the Department of Justice has an obligation to intervene.”
Tarrant also expressed concern with Trump’s joke. ”We are professionals. We are not thugs. If there’s any deviation from that, there’s certainly cause for concern and to suggest that we treat people less than nice and it results in any kind of injury, we’re talking about a crime.”