When candidate Donald Trump made a feeble attempt at courting black voters during his bid for president last year, he raised eyebrows in Michigan when he said: “You’re living in poverty. Your schools are no good. You have no jobs …What the hell do you have to lose?”
First, let’s put aside the insulting question and blanket characterization Trump used to describe African American citizens and go directly to the facts of the current Trump presidency.
It’s now 200 days and counting into the Trump presidency, the campaign season is in the rear-view mirror, we no longer have to hear the empty rhetoric, instead we have meat on the bones of Trump’s policy agenda. So what exactly do African Americans stand to lose if Trump’s agenda becomes law?
Trump already has policy proposals and directives at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) that, if signed into law, would disproportionately impact African Americans and other communities of color.
Historically, African Americans have benefitted when the federal government acts as an impartial arbiter to enforce the nation’s laws and provide adequate resources for oversight. Although it’s currently being weakened by elements of the Republican Party, the 1964 Voting Rights Act is an example of the federal government stepping in and providing enforcement and oversight to ensure equal protection under the law.
Another example of the federal government using its enforcement tools to protect African Americans is the Office of Environmental Justice, a sub-agency under the EPA.
Trump is proposing to cut the EPA budget by $8.1 billion or 25 percent, and eliminate the Environmental Justice Office. It’s safe to say under Trump’s EPA agenda – Black Lives Don’t Matter.
The concept of “Environmental Justice” has been acknowledged by the federal government since President Bill Clinton’s 1994 executive order recognizing that communities of color and low-income populations are disproportionately impacted by toxins in the air, soil, and water.
Indeed, environmental justice may not at first glance be a top priority for many African American voters, but it’s an indirect healthcare issue.
For instance, according to the National Institute of Health, African American hospitalization and fatalities from asthma are 3 times higher than among whites. While studies by the Center for Disease Control factor in genetic differences for the disparity, they also acknowledge communities of color often face substandard housing and working conditions exposing them to a higher risk of environmental allergens and irritants that worsen asthma.
In addition, the current lead water crisis in Flint, Michigan, a majority black city, demonstrates the need for an Environmental Justice Office. A state government report concluded the lead water poisoning of Flint, was caused, in part, by “systemic racism.”
“To cut the environmental justice program at EPA is just racist, John Coequyt, campaign director of the Sierra Club, bluntly told The Guardian. “I can’t describe it in any other terms than a move to leave those communities behind. I can’t imagine what the justification would be, other than racism.”
Institutional racism in our criminal justice system continues to have a disproportionate impact on the lives of African Americans. The Trump administration seems to be going backward in its oversight of police use of deadly force and in the role the Department of Justice can play to mete out justice.
While there were many high-profile police shootings during the Obama administration, and relations between African Americans and police sunk to all-time lows, Obama and his Attorney General Eric Holder made an effort to improve police relations in inner-cities by using the bully-pulpit of the DOJ to increase oversight of local police departments.
What’s already troubling about Trump’s DOJ, headed by controversial former Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Al, is the announcement to reverse many of Holder’s initiatives to provide investigative tools, training, and oversight to mitigate police misconduct.
For example, two particularly high-profile police killings of African American men, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo, and Laquan McDonald in Chicago, IL, didn’t result in federal charges brought by the DOJ, but both cases lead to DOJ investigations and oversight.
As I wrote on my Tumblr blog in 2015, after the release of the DOJ’s Ferguson Police Report. “An investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, led by Attorney General Eric Holder uncovered a predatory enforcement of the law which targeted black residents of Ferguson to meet the budgetary goals of the city coffers. For the police, it was a real-life game of Monopoly, wherever a black citizen landed in the city of Ferguson, the police was waiting to hand them a “Go directly to jail card.”
So what might African Americans lose under the Sessions’ leadership at DOJ? While Sessions recently told the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Officers he would hold police officers accountable for misconduct, it contradicted his statement in April to DOJ staff “it is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies.”
The pattern to reverse Holder’s initiative continued when Sessions directed DOJ attorneys to block a consent decree negotiated between the Obama administration and the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) – prompted by the death of Freddie Gray, who sustained fatal injuries after being transported in a police van. I should note; Session’s reversal may have already negatively impacted policing in poor inner-city Baltimore. In recent weeks, the BPD is under intense scrutiny after the release of two separate videos showing officers planting drugs on suspects.
With Trump’s 8 percent showing of African American support, it’s clear between his policy proposals at the EPA and DOJ, African Americans weren’t fooled into voting against their interests. Meeting for the first time with members of the Congressional Black Caucus in March, Trump was presented with a 130 page policy agenda. The document was appropriately titled “We have a lot to lose.”