Rev. Susan K. Williams Smith

What Trump Means by ‘Law and Order’

The president's deployment of federal agents in American cities is about the opposite of "law and order."
[Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 2.0]

By Rev. Susan K. Williams Smith / OtherWords

Federal troops may be standing down in Portland for now. But Donald Trump has also dispatched federal agents to Cleveland, Milwaukee, Detroit, Chicago, Kansas City, and Albuquerque.

Trump claimed his orders are intended to “restore law and order.” But this isn’t about restoring peace to our communities.

For generations, Black families, communities, and businesses have been terrorized by violent police officers and white vigilantes without consequence. Trump’s call for “law and order” is a political dog whistle to enable and excuse this systemic abuse.

Trump doesn’t want law or order. He’s calling for federal agents to sow chaos and disorder to intimidate our communities by any means necessary.

The militarized agents Trump deployed in Portland, where protests against police brutality have endured for two straight months, were clearly meant to achieve just that. Those heavily armed, body armored, and camouflaged troops patrolled the city in unmarked cars, launched dangerous munitions at unarmed protesters, and detained many others.

Trump has meanwhile claimed that Democratic lawmakers and activists are engaging in an “anti-cop crusade” to abolish all police departments.

In reality, most of these campaigns are simply calling to remove some money from police budgets and put it toward underfunded schools and community support services long denied to Black and brown communities — like job training, mental health care, and low-income housing.

Centuries of discrimination, oppression, and violence against Black people have caused too many of us to live in poverty. And for too long, corrupt, violent, and racist police officers have capitalized on minor crimes of poverty to harass, arrest, and kill us.

George Floyd allegedly used counterfeit money. Eric Garner sold loose cigarettes. Alton Sterling sold DVDs out of a gas station. Police officers targeted these men and killed them for these minor offenses.

And now that people around the country are standing up against police violence and racial injustice, Trump is trying to stifle our power to serve his political ends.

We must reject Trump’s concept of “law and order” and reimagine public safety by investing in our well-being instead of hefty police budgets. What could it mean for all people to have equal protection under the law and the resources to support healthy, thriving communities?

We can start by restoring law and order in our police departments themselves.

We would all benefit from strict standards on the use of force, and from police officers who value protecting our communities over violence and access to power. We would all benefit from robust police training in conflict management and de-escalation, and from community oversight mechanisms ensuring that police officers are held accountable for wrongdoing.

The national reckoning on racial injustice and police violence is long overdue. Black people in this country have been in crisis since we were first brought here as slaves in the 1600s. We don’t need militarized police departments, ready to shoot us at the slightest change of the wind. We need to be treated as human beings, with dignity and respect.

We need police to stop targeting, arresting, and killing us for minor offenses like selling cigarettes or driving with a broken taillight or bad muffler. We need to know that our bodies are not seen as simply fodder for the prison industrial complex.

Trump’s notion of “law and order” is detrimental and divisive for all of us. Let’s create a new version of law and order defined by public safety, accountability, and thriving communities.

Rev. Dr. Susan K. Williams Smith
Rev. Dr. Susan K. Williams Smith

Rev. Dr. Susan K. Williams Smith is an ordained minister and director of Crazy Faith Ministries in Columbus, Ohio. She serves on People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers In Action. This op-ed was distributed by OtherWords.org.

2 comments

  1. All share worthy enduring dilemmas. Beneath this oh so visible crust is the is the gooey blob. The tin of genteel, rewarded bobbles and vassals, hold it all in place. The makers of all, in plain view, are made obscure by our own willingness to watch pie plated and consumed.
    – there can be no Liberty for a community which lacks the means by which to detect lies.

  2. what do amerikans mean by law and order? why is there no analysis of the medieval nature of US laws here?

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