Be afraid, be very afraid!
"Our convention occurs at a moment of crisis for our nation," Donald Trump said. "The attacks on our police, and the terrorism in our cities, threaten our very way of life."
Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president, has painted a grim picture of life in the United States, blaming seemingly all of the crime and terrorist attacks on both President Obama and Hillary Clinton. Though people know Trump's speech is meant to be politically divisive, it is also dangerous because he incites fear in the American public with lies and half-truths.
As he accepted the party's candidacy, Trump proclaimed himself the "law and order" candidate while angrily tugging at the emotions of disaffected Americans who feel vulnerable from attacks within our borders.
Trump evoked the "law and order" phrase at least four times in his acceptance speech. The subjective nature allows the idiom to mean many things to different people. What does the phrase mean?
“In politics, law and order refers to demands for a strict criminal justice system, especially in relation to violent and property crime, through stricter criminal penalties. These penalties may include longer terms of imprisonment, mandatory sentencing, three strikes laws, and in some countries, capital punishment.
"Supporters of 'law and order' argue that effective deterrence combined with incarceration is the most effective means of crime prevention.
"Opponents of law and order argue that a system of harsh criminal punishment is ultimately ineffective because it does not address underlying or systemic causes of crime.
"'Law and order' is a recurring theme in political campaigns around the world. Candidates may exaggerate or even manufacture a problem with law and order, or characterize their opponents as 'weak' on the issue, to generate public support. The expression also sometimes carries the implication of arbitrary or unnecessary law enforcement, or excessive use of police powers.
("law and order." Definitions.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2016. Web. 23 Jul 2016. <http://www.definitions.net/definition/law and order>.)
Trump's law and order invocation reminds many older Americans of its use by conservatives in the 1960s to stamp out protests and political rebellion. The conservative initiative on these issues was actually initiated much earlier as part of a larger effort to forge a new Republican electoral majority following the collapse brought about by the New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Katherine Beckett -- Professor in the Department of Sociology and the Law, Societies, and Justice Program; faculty affiliate of the West Coast Poverty Center and Clowes Center for the Study of Conflict and Dialogue; and faculty associate and steering committee member of the Center for Human Rights at the University of Washington – explains the roots of the movement ...
“Doing so involved reaching out to formerly Democratic, white voters who had been alienated by the (belated and reluctant) Democratic embrace of the civil rights cause. Rhetoric about the collapse of law and order, crime in the streets, and the need for strength in the face of chaos proved to be a successful means of doing so.
“Conservative initiative on the crime issue has also been aimed at shifting the government’s role and responsibilities from the provision of social welfare toward the protection of personal security....
“The get-tough policies that have resulted from this campaign are not supported by the findings of most sociological research, which suggest that severity of punishment does not have a significant deterrent effect and that welfare spending reduces rather than increases crime.”
(Katherine Beckett. “Conservative Agendas and Campaigns: The Rise of the Modern
'Tough On Crime' Movement.” From The Politics of Injustice: Crime and Punishment
in America. 2004.)
In the '60s, “law and order” rhetoric was undoubtedly a ploy to gain voters with racial fearas the GOP targeted white southerners – voters who had formerly composed the Democrats’ “solid South” – as potential “swing voters.”
Some conservative political strategists even frankly admitted that appealing to racial fears and antagonisms was central to this strategy. For example, political analyst and consultant Kevin Phillips argued that a Republican victory and long-term realignment was possible primarily on the basis of racial issues, and therefore suggested the use of coded anti-black campaign rhetoric.”
Similarly, John Ehrlichmann, Special Counsel to the President, described the Nixon administration’s campaign strategy of 1968 in this way: “We’ll go after the racists. That subliminal appeal to the anti-African-American voter was always present in Nixon’s statements and speeches.”
(Katherine Beckett. Quoting John Ehrlichmann in Making Crime Pay. 1997.)
Race baiting? In the late ’80s, Trump took full page newspaper ads to call for the death of the so-called Central Park Five, the black and Latino men wrongfully convicted of raping a woman while she was jogging in the park.
(Marcela Garcia. “Donald Trump galvanized the Latino community into action.” The Boston Globe. June 30, 2015.)
Let's not forget that Trump tweeted in June, 2013, that the “overwhelming amount of violent crime in our major cities is committed by blacks and [H]ispanics” and invited his Twitter followers to discuss the “tough subject.”
(“Donald Trump Blames Crime On Blacks, Hispanics. Huffington Post. June 05, 2013.)
And, how about Trump's remarks in kicking off his GOP presidential candidacy? He said Mexican immigrants are bringing drugs and crime. “They’re rapists,” he said. “They’re sending us not the right people... It’s coming from all over South and Latin America.”
Trump is attempting to validate the use of this prejudiced hatred with lies concerning law and order. What is the truth about the state of crime in the United States? His words do not reflect a trend of declining crime that has been unfolding over 25 years.
Crime figures can be used to tell a tale of progress or setbacks. It is true that some places are experiencing more crime, but there is not a need to claim “law and order” have vacated the country. Here's a look at some of Trump's recent statements and how they compare with the facts:
TRUMP: "Crime is out of control, and rapidly getting worse. Look what is going on in Chicago and our inner cities. Not good!"
TRUMP: "Violent crime has increased in cities across America."
THE FACTS: Violent crime has dropped dramatically since the early 1990s. According to FBI data , the national violent crime rate last peaked in 1991 at 758 reported violent crimes per 100,000 people. In 2014, the latest year for which full data is available, the rate was 366 per 100,000 people.
Even so, Trump has some statistical support for claiming violent crime is up in big-city America.
"It is a mistake to say crime is out of control and rapidly getting worse," Darrel Stephens, executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, told AP. "We do have increases in many cities and it should be of concern to people, but the rate is well below the early '90s when it was at its peak."
Said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum: "I would not say that crime is out of control everywhere or anywhere for that matter, in comparison to where we were 25 years ago."
(Eileen Sullivan and Chad Day. “AP FACT CHECK: Crime stats don't back Trump's dire view.” Associated Press. sutelemundo20.com. July 13, 2016.)
TRUMP: “Homicides last year increased by 17% in America’s 50 largest cities. That’s the largest increase in 25 years. In our nation’s capital, killings have risen by 50%. They are up nearly 60% in nearby Baltimore.”
THE FACTS: The raw numbers are true, according to a Washington Post analysis. But they paint a misleading picture by looking at 2015 in isolation. Since Obama took office, homicides have actually dropped 13% — a continuation of a 25-year trend spanning all large cities across the U.S. since the early 1990s. In 1991, an average of 27 people were killed in large cities every year; in 2015, the average was 11.
Criminologists fiercely disagree over whether the recent spike in homicides is a statistical anomaly or the result of short-term factors, or whether they point toward a more distressing longer-term trend.
TRUMP: “The number of police officers killed in the line of duty has risen by almost 50% compared to this point last year.”
THE FACTS: The number is true but it lacks context. The vast majority of officers are killed by illnesses, heart attacks, or accidents — drowning, weather, car and motorcycle crashes — an average of about 50 to 60 officers are killed on-duty every year. In 2014, 60 police officers were killed by gunfire, assault or explosives. In 2015, 56 police officers were killed in the same way. So far in 2016, 42 officers have been killed by gunfire or assault.
According to data compiled by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, between 2009 and 2015, under Obama, there were 17% fewer police officer fatalities that there were between 2002 and 2008, under George W. Bush.
(Haley Sweetland Edwards. “Fact-Checking Donald Trump’s Acceptance Speech.”
Time. July 22, 2016.)
Donald Trump's declaration of himself as the “Law and Order Champion” is pointed and calculated – it seeks to justify the sad reality that playing on people's emotions by using particularly prejudice intent, not by delivering the facts, stirs the public to distrust and to surrender to fear mongering. If Trump is the law and order candidate, he is using the term to weave a web of deceit without support. That is a view of law and order that must not be believed.