Fewer issues heading into the 2020 presidential race have clearer dividing lines than policing, where President Trump has asked authorities not to be too “nice” to suspects and Democrats say the police need more oversight.
Former Obama administration Cabinet member Julian Castro on Monday proposed an overhaul of U.S. policing, saying more needs to be done to repair relationships between authorities and minority communities after a spate of high-profile police shootings of black men and women.
“How many of these videos do we have to watch to understand that even though we have some great police officers, this is not a case of bad apples. The system is broken,” said the 2020 presidential candidate and former secretary of housing and urban development.
He called for national standards of conduct, including requirements for internal reviews and disciplinary action. He also said he would end the transfer of some surplus military equipment to local police under the federal government’s “1033” program.
That was a direct challenge to Mr. Trump, who in 2017 reversed an Obama-era ban on most lethal military equipment being shipped to local police.
Mr. Castro’s plan would reinstate and expand the Obama-era policy, adding even more military equipment to the banned list, and clawing back some equipment already doled out such as armored vehicles, said Samuel Sinyangwe, co-founder of the group Campaign Zero.
“It’s definitely a contrast, I think, with the Trump administration, but this is a plan that is even bolder and goes further than what we saw under the Obama administration,” Mr. Sinyangwe said.
While Mr. Castro is the first major Democrat in the 2020 presidential field to offer a comprehensive policing policy, others have embraced calls for change.
Sen. Kamala D. Harris, California Democrat, said she supports independent investigations into police-involved shootings, a contrast to her stance when she was a district attorney in San Francisco.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio also has highlighted his move to curtail the “stop and frisk” police tactic in his city.
Relations between Mr. de Blasio and his city’s police force are so strained that the police union mocked his announcement of his presidential candidacy and has urged police in early primary states such as South Carolina to warn their own voters about Mr. de Blasio.
By contrast, police leaders seem thrilled with Mr. Trump, who on the campaign trail regularly proclaims his support for law enforcement and has touted his restoration of the 1033 equipment program.
Jim Pascoe, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, said the program is useful for keeping communities safe.
“President Trump has been very faithful to all his promises and commitments to us,” Mr. Pascoe said. “I think you’d have to say that every commitment he made to us, he’s kept.”
Mr. Trump has fully leaned into the culture war aspects of the issue, embracing a “Blue Lives Matter” mantra and slamming NFL players for kneeling during the national anthem in protest of racial bias in the country’s law enforcement and criminal justice systems.
“America’s law enforcement has never known a bigger champion and ally than President Trump,” said Erin Perrine, a spokeswoman for his reelection campaign.
She pointed to a recent decline in the number of officers killed in ambushes and touted Mr. Trump’s support for Project Safe Neighborhoods, a federal program aimed at combating violent crime.
“He has rebuilt the military, fought to ensure national security, and honored those brave enough to put on a uniform every single day,” Ms. Perrine said.
The president even told a law enforcement crowd in July 2017 not to be too “nice” to suspects — though that prompted pushback from some in the law enforcement community. The White House later said Mr. Trump was joking.
The president sees law enforcement and policing as an issue that consolidates his base of support, said Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist from South Carolina.
“Knowing the statistics, knowing how black and brown people are more likely to be mishandled, hurt or killed at the hands of law enforcement — he touts that issue as something that he can placate his base on, unite his base on,” Mr. Seawright said. “That’s all red meat for him.”
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