TO Interested Parties
DATE July 28, 2020
RE The Trump Administration’s Dangerous Policy of Sending Federal Agents into American Cities
After the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers in late May, the nation experienced an unprecedented outcry for fundamental changes in police conduct. Across the United States, people are rising up and are demanding accountability for police-involved violence which disproportionately takes the lives of Black and Brown Americans. Since the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other recent victims of police violence, people have taken to the streets in support of police reform in every state.
But instead of addressing these demands for accountability, the Trump administration has instead invoked a dangerous “law and order” strategy, which does nothing to make American communities safer from violence, but merely inflames a country already on edge. With the presidential election less than 100 days away, the difference between President Trump and Joe Biden’s plans to make our country safer from violence could not be starker.
Across the United States, calls for police reform have already resulted in significant changes to laws governing police accountability, transparency, and use of force: governors in Colorado, New York, and Oregon signed police reform legislation into law; police departments in Minneapolis, Denver, Dallas, Houston, and Washington DC instituted a variety of policy changes including banning chokeholds and requiring other officers to intervene if they witness unauthorized uses of force; and the House of Representatives passed the comprehensive George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. Other states and cities are considering related measures on an unprecedented level.
The presence and tactics of federal agents, including federal law enforcement officers in unmarked vans grabbing protestors off the streets and tear gassing Mayor Ted Wheeler, have led to violence and violations of protestors’ constitutional rights—some of the same harmful tactics that legislative reform efforts in Oregon and elsewhere are seeking to curb. Members of the House of Representatives are calling on the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security to explain and investigate this excessive use of force against the American public.
As discussed in a report Giffords Law Center released earlier this year, In Pursuit of Peace: Building Police-Community Trust to Break the Cycle of Violence, communities’ distrust and estrangement from unjust, unaccountable, and militarized law enforcement is one of the leading root causes of gun violence in this country. We welcome efforts to more effectively refocus public safety resources around preventing violence and protecting human life. But a militarized show of force will do little to build the trust, partnerships, and community-led interventions necessary to interrupt cycles of shootings and retaliations.
The communities that have made the most significant progress in reducing violence have done so not by doubling down on mass arrest and incarceration, but by investing in community-based interventions and policing reform to build earned trust with the community. Group violence intervention, relationship-based street outreach, and hospital-based programs have been remarkably successful at interrupting entrenched cycles of community violence, and have led to significant, long-term reductions in shootings and gun homicides in cities across the US in short amounts of time. Yet President Trump has shown little interest in investing in them
With each passing day, President Trump demonstrates his inability to lead—but this cowardice and incompetence is nothing new. Following the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, when Americans across the political spectrum wanted to see their elected officials act like never before, President Trump announced support for background checks and raising the minimum age for purchasing guns, and then proceeded to do nothing. The following year, after the horrific mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, he similarly failed to act.
Despite the statistically significant relationship between military equipment in police hands and officer-involved shootings, President Trump has continued to urge the use of force against Americans across the country. And even though data shows a Black person in America is three times more likely to be killed by a police officer than a white person, he chooses to believe otherwise.
As this president urges violence against Americans on Twitter, our next president has dedicated himself to making America safer. Joe Biden’s plan to reduce gun violence and make communities safer is clear, comprehensive, and data-informed, which is why Giffords endorsed him in March.
We know what steps must be taken to reduce violence in American communities:
Require a background check on every gun sale. Over 90% of the American people support universal background checks—while that doesn’t include President Trump (most of the time), it does include Joe Biden. Background checks have stopped more than three million illegal gun sales since 1994, but our laws are riddled with loopholes. Under current law, only federally licensed firearms dealers are required to conduct a background check when transferring a firearm; as a result, prohibited people can easily skirt the system and easily obtain a gun at a gun show, online, or from an unlicensed seller. Joe Biden has committed to working with Congress to pass and sign universal background check legislation like H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act. He has similarly committed to addressing the “Charleston loophole,” which allows a gun sale to proceed at a dealer’s discretion if a background check has not been completed within three buisness days.
Invest in community-based violence prevention and intervention. For too long, American communities have failed to invest in effective programs to address gun violence and murder inequality. Research and case studies have shown that through a combination of low-cost, community-oriented intervention programs and much-needed firearms policy reforms, cities can dramatically reduce gun violence in as little as two years. Oakland, for example, reduced shootings by 50% over five years by supporting programs that offer both positive and negative incentives to individuals at the highest risk for committing violence. Yet such programs are not effective without consistent funding. Biden’s plan calls for the creation of a $900 million initiative in 40 cities across the country that would save an estimated 12,000 lives over eight years.
Reform and refocus law enforcement efforts to more effectively and justly prevent violence. Research has long shown that communities’ inability to trust the justice system is a root cause of violence. Communities of color have long been subject to police violence, brutal over-criminalization of minor offenses, and under-protection from lethal violence—all of which make law enforcement less trusted and effective at solving and preventing homicides and shootings. To begin to reform harmful policing practices and build earned community trust, law enforcement agencies must act on the recommendations of the Obama administration’s blue-ribbon Task Force on 21st Century Policing. State and federal lawmakers must also pass legislation, like the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, to reform law enforcement standards and practices. Unlike President Trump, Joe Biden has committed to meaningfully reform the criminal justice system, end the era of mass incarceration, and refocus law enforcement efforts around community policing and prevention of violence.
Strengthen federal oversight tools to ensure accountability for both law enforcement and the gun industry. For too long, immunity laws have shielded both law enforcement and the gun industry from accountability in civil courts. Joe Biden supports reforms to repeal these immunity laws and strengthen federal oversight efforts. Building on goals set and actions taken in the Obama administration, Joe Biden plans to direct the Department of Justice to investigate and address systemic police misconduct. Instead of placing federal agents on the streets to harm peaceful protestors or leaving the gun industry to regulate itself, Joe Biden has committed to providing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) the resources it needs to prevent gun violence before it happens. This includes allowing ATF to modernize its technology, share data with policymakers, and regulate untraceable “ghost guns” like any other firearm.
From the East Room of the White House, President Trump declared that city leaders must be held accountable by their residents. The same must be true for federal leaders. This president has shown time and time again that he is willing to only pay lip service to the country’’s gun violence epidemic. It doesn’t have to be that way. In November, voters have the chance to show President Trump what they think of how he’s handled this moment of reckoning.