Trump Is No Stranger to Law-and-Order Baiting

Earl Ofari Hutchinson


From our content partner New America Media:


When GOP presidential contender Donald Trump shouts that he’s the “law-and-order candidate,” he is pilfering the line that George Wallace, Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton worked to death during their White House bids. The law-and-order line is heavy with racially coded images of rampant black crime, and this is a surefire way to pander to fearful suburban whites.


But Trump actually has his own history, apart from presidential racial-scare politics, of being a self-styled tough-guy on crime.


The starting point was the now infamous Central Park Five case of 1989. The five were young African-American and Latino youths charged with the rape and beating of a white female jogger in New York’s Central Park. They were convicted and imprisoned for more than a decade. The five were innocent. Their confessions were obtained illegally, through two days of nonstop police intimidation, coercion and lies. There was no physical evidence to connect them to the crime. The actual assailant eventually confessed and the city settled a multimillion-dollar wrongful imprisonment lawsuit with the five.


Trump sniffed an opportunity with the case. With much fanfare when the case hit the news, he shelled out $85,000 to four newspapers to splash an ad demanding the death penalty for the five. Trump made clear that he was not just outraged over the brutal rape and assault but that the case typified a city under siege from lawlessness and that it was time to crack down. The heavy-handed welding of the death penalty was the only way to send the get-tough message to criminals. He minced no words in his ad: “I want to hate these muggers and murderers.”


The ad was a not-so-subtle effort to prod state legislators to override then-New York Governor Mario Cuomo’s annual veto of a proposed law to reinstate the death penalty in the state. Trump did not budge one inch from his tough-guy stance on crime, even after the admission that the Central Park Five were innocent. There were no apologies, no recriminations, no second guesses from him about the horror that if New York had had the death penalty at the time and the five men had been executed at his prodding, he would have had the blood of innocent men on his hands.


Instead, he doubled down and lambasted the city’s payout to the men as a disgrace and politics at its lowest form. The bald implication was that the men were still guilty and got a reward for their crime.


Trump returned to tout the death penalty again last December when he screamed to a meeting of the New England Police Benevolent Association that one of the first things that he’d do if elected would be to sign an executive order urging judges and juries to automatically slap the death penalty on anyone who kills a cop. It was pure hyperbole since only states can apply the death penalty for the murder of local police and the federal government has jurisdiction over the death penalty in a limited number of proscribed federal cases.



But Trump wasn’t finished. He solemnly pledged that he’d never let police officers down and that he’d do everything he could to get the police even more military-style equipment and vehicles. This was an obvious slap at the increasing call by many civil rights and civil liberties advocates and even a promise by President Obama to review the heavy-duty surplus military armor and weapons that police departments have gotten free or at bargain prices from the Defense Department.


Trump masterfully played to the law-and-order crowd with the death penalty and further militarization of police departments to make the political point that he was the candidate who’d crack down on crime and violence. He got the full-throated backing of the New England police group.


The San Bernardino massacre and the murder of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge are simply the horrid backdrop to the line that Trump has honed over time about America being supposedly under siege from lawlessness in the streets and the need to do whatever it takes to stop it.


Trump didn’t need Wallace or Nixon to know that the law-and-order pitch can potentially pay rich political dividends. He first touched a nerve with it in New York decades ago and he’ll play on it again and again in the fall, painting a picture of streets in anarchy, and tarring Clinton and the Democrats as softies on crime. He’s no stranger to that scare tactic.


Author Bio:


Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of Let’s Stop Denying Made in America Terrorism (Amazon Kindle). He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.


From our content partner New America Media

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