President Trump announced a broad four-part plan Thursday to improve policing nationwide and advance conditions in minority communities, a vision he called “force with compassion” that rejects a liberal movement to defund police departments.
Pushing back at widespread complaints of institutional racism in the U.S., Mr. Trump also said there won’t be healing in the nation “by falsely labeling tens of millions of decent Americans as racist.” At a mega-church in Dallas, Mr. Trump said he will sign an executive order soon encouraging police departments to meet high professional standards for the use of force, including tactics for de-escalating confrontations.
The action will also include pilot programs to allow social workers to join certain law enforcement officers “so they can work together,” he said.
“That means force, but force with compassion,” the president said. “We’re not defunding police. If anything, we’re going the other route. We’re going to make sure our police are well-trained.”
He made the appearance with police and community and faith leaders in Texas two days after the funeral of George Floyd, a black man who died on May 25 during an encounter with police in Minneapolis. Since then, the president has come under heavy criticism for failing to address the protests and chronic underlying conditions that have roiled many cities nationwide.
Mr. Trump made clear that he is not abandoning his law-and-order agenda. He said a spree of violence in Chicago last weekend and the takeover of a section of Seattle by demonstrators are unacceptable.
“We have to have law and order,” Mr. Trump said. “You have to have strength. Look at Seattle. They took over a city, a big chunk of it. It couldn’t happen here, I don’t think, in the state of Texas.”
The president said some elements of the country are “trying to stoke division. … This includes radical efforts to defund, dismantle and disband the police.”
“We have to go the opposite way,” he said. “We must invest more energy and resources in police training and recruitment and community engaging. … You always have a bad apple wherever you go. There are not too many in the police department.”
He reiterated his position on rioting: “You have to dominate the streets.”
The president also said he will renew his appeal for Congress to approve school choice and called it “the civil rights issue of our time.” The president promised increased investment in minority communities, as well as for health care institutions that serve mostly minorities.
“We are here to listen to community and faith leaders and to present our vision of advancing the cause of justice and freedom,” Mr. Trump said.
The White House also is working with Senate Republicans on legislation to address police practices. Mr. Trump opposes a proposal by Democrats to eliminate “qualified immunity” for police in the course of their duties.
Addressing the complaints of systemic racism in the U.S., the president said, “We have to work together to confront bigotry and prejudice wherever they appear. But we’ll make no progress and heal no wounds by falsely labeling tens of millions of decent Americans as racist.”
The event on race and policing excluded the three top law enforcement officials in the county — a police chief, sheriff and district attorney — all of whom are black. The White House said the president already heard a wide range of views.
Mr. Trump brought along Attorney General William Barr as well as two of the top black officials in his administration — Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and Surgeon General Jerome Adams. Mr. Barr said he is optimistic about addressing issues of policing to avoid a repetition of Floyd’s death.
“That ghastly spectacle in Minneapolis was jarring to the whole nation,” Mr. Barr said.
But he added, “Police are by and large good, decent people. We cannot lose sight of the fact that the real oppression and danger to our communities comes more from violent crime and lawlessness than it does from the police.”
He also pointed to religion as a solution. “We have to stop policies that undermine religion or relegate it out of the public square,” he said.
The American Civil Liberties Union slammed the president’s proposals as ineffective and insincere.
“President Trump continued to push his law and order rhetoric while providing piecemeal service to the very real issues underlying the public outcry around the murders of Black people in this country,” said senior legislative counsel Kanya Bennett. “His comments did not address what is a fundamental truth — we need to fundamentally change the role of police in America, and that role has to be smaller, more circumscribed, and less funded with taxpayer dollars. Giving more money to the police and the prison system won’t end the epidemic of violence and brutality.”
The theme of the roundtable meeting in Dallas was “Transition to Greatness: Restoring, Rebuilding, and Renewing.” It emphasized the president’s theme that his economic policies prior to the COVID-19 pandemic created prosperity and opportunity for all segments of society.
But the rising prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement and persistent economic anxiety have been making it difficult for the president’s messaging to gain traction with the public. His job approval ratings have dropped significantly in the past month.
Even the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark A. Milley, caught the White House off guard Thursday by apologizing to the public for participating in the presidential walk across Lafayette Park to visit the fire-damaged St. John’s Episcopal Church last week amid anti-racism protests.
The president blamed “domestic terrorists” for the situation in Seattle, where activists have established an “autonomous zone” amid unrest. Mr. Trump told Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan on Twitter, “Take back your city NOW. If you don’t, I will. This is not a game.”
Mr. Inslee and Ms. Durkan responded by telling the president to butt out.
“A man who is totally incapable of governing should stay out of Washington state’s business,” said Mr. Inslee, a former 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.
Presumptive Democratic nominee Joseph R. Biden said the president is showing that he is incapable of leading in challenging times.
“For weeks, we’ve seen President Trump run away from a meaningful conversation on systemic racism and police brutality. Instead, he’s further divided our country,” Mr. Biden said. “[Thursday’s] trip to Texas won’t change any of that. President Trump is more interested in photo-ops than offering a healing voice as our nation mourns.”
A Trump campaign ad airing this week in the Washington market shows images of rioting, and it links Mr. Biden to the unrest.
“Biden fails to stand up to the radical leftists fighting to defund and abolish the police,” the narrator says. “With Biden kneeling to the left, we’d have chaos in the streets.”
The ad says Mr. Trump is “standing up for us, keeping our communities safe, protecting minority-owned businesses and always standing for our flag.”
The Trump campaign also criticized Mr. Biden for holding a fundraiser Thursday night with music artist and activist John Legend, who has promised to push the former vice president toward defunding law enforcement. “The train to defund the police has left the station, and Joe Biden is on it, whether he likes it or not,” the Trump campaign said.
The president’s base still supports him overwhelmingly, although there are signs of discontent. A Gallup poll this week found that only 1 in 5 Americans are satisfied with the direction of the country, a drop of 25 percentage points since February.
Mr. Trump’s trip to Texas raised $10 million for his reelection effort and for other Republican campaign committees. The traditionally red state is in play again this year. A Quinnipiac poll last week showed the president 1 percentage point ahead of Mr. Biden there.
Democrats accused Mr. Trump of racism Thursday for scheduling his next campaign rally on the “Juneteenth” anniversary of slavery’s end, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the site of one of the worst massacres of blacks in U.S. history.
“This isn’t just a wink to white supremacists — he’s throwing them a welcome home party,” tweeted Sen. Kamala D. Harris, California Democrat and a contender to become Mr. Biden’s running mate.
Kamau Marshall, a spokesman for the Biden campaign, said on Twitter, “How racist is Donald Trump: He’s so racist that he plans on having one of his first campaign rallies on June 19th in Tulsa, OK.”
Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, celebrates the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation to enslaved black Americans on June 19, 1865, after the end of the Civil War. Texas was the last Confederate state to have the proclamation announced. President Lincoln made it effective in 1863, but few Union troops enforced it in Texas until after the war ended in April 1865.
Celebrations of Juneteenth date to 1866. The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission is holding educational activities and other events leading up to the 100th anniversary next May.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Juneteenth “is a meaningful day” to the president.
“The African American community is very near and dear to his heart,” she told reporters. “At these rallies, he often shares the great work he has done for minority communities. He’s working on rectifying injustices. … It’s a day where he wants to share some of the progress that’s been made as we look forward and more that needs to be done.”
Trump campaign senior adviser Katrina Pierson rejected the accusations that holding a campaign rally on the date is racist.
“As the party of Lincoln, Republicans are proud of the history of Juneteenth, which is the anniversary of the last reading of the Emancipation Proclamation,” she said in a statement. “President Trump has built a record of success for black Americans, including unprecedented low unemployment prior to the global pandemic, all-time high funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and criminal justice reform. Joe Biden spent last Juneteenth raising money at a private fundraiser and defending comments he made celebrating his work with segregationist senators.”
Tulsa was the scene of a massacre in 1921 in which a white mob attacked a mostly black business district known as “Black Wall Street.” Some modern historians estimate that as many as 300 people were killed and more than 35 city blocks were destroyed.
⦁ David Sherfinski and Gabriella Muñoz contributed to this report.
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