Trump announces nationwide ban on chokeholds ‘unless an officer’s life is at risk’

President’s speech begins with unifying message, but quickly turns into law-and-order campaign sales pitch

John T. Bennett
Washington Bureau Chief
Tuesday 16 June 2020 18:34 BST
Trump says chokeholds will be banned unless officers feel their lives are at risk

Donald Trump announced a federal ban on police officers applying chokeholds as part of a new process under which local police departments receive federal grant dollars, but said an officer could still use such a manoeuvre if they feel their life is in danger.

The president’s qualifier is the same that has allowed some police officers who have shot and killed black people to escape charges or prison time after arguing in court they felt their own lives were at risk. The announcement was part of the president announcing an executive order on what experts call modest policing reforms.

Those reforms are intended, Mr Trump and other senior administration officials say, to put more officers on the street and make police departments “closer” to the people they are supposed to serve.

Mr Trump invited law enforcement officials onto the stage in the Rose Garden to stand behind him as he signed the executive order. He did not, however, invite any family members of victims of police shootings to join him.

For a president so obsessed with visuals and how he looks, especially in news video and photos, it was a notable omission.

The president began about 25 minutes of remarks by giving his condolences to the family members of black people killed recently by white police officers. He made calls for national unity.

But his prepared remarks quickly veered off into an homage to police departments.

“Americans know the truth. Without police there is chaos ... and anarchy,” Mr Trump said.

“Americans believe we must support the brave Americans in blue who ... keep us safe,” the president said, calling for “more resources” for police training and recruiting.

“These are not opposite goals, they are not mutually exclusive,” he said. “They all work together.”

But, collectively, his action falls short of what protesters who have taken to American streets in recent weeks want. The same is true of congressional Democratic leaders.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that the order ”falls sadly and seriously short of what is required to combat the epidemic of racial injustice and police brutality that is murdering hundreds of black Americans. The executive order lacks meaningful, mandatory accountability measures to end misconduct. During this moment of national anguish, we must insist on bold change, not meekly surrender to the bare minimum”.

“Led by the Congressional Black Caucus, Democrats are advancing the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act: bold, unprecedented reforms to curb police brutality, end racial profiling and end the court-created doctrine of qualified immunity for law enforcement to hold police accountable,” the California Democrat added. “This legislation will transform the culture of policing to address systemic racism by holding police accountable and increasing transparency.”

But the president blasted “radical” elements on the left for proposing to “dismantle” police departments as he continued his “law-and-order” marketing of himself and his presidency a few months before he will face voters seeking a second term.

Several recent polls show nearly 70 per cent of Americans say the recent killings of black people by police show larger problems within departments. Nearly as many of those polled are not satisfied with how the president has responded to the killings and subsequent protests.

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