The Fraternal Order of Police, which claims to be the “world’s largest organization of sworn law enforcement officers, with more than 330,000 members in more than 2,200 lodges,” met with Donald Trump this week as they actively consider an endorsement of his presidential candidacy. (Disclaimer: #ImWithHer)
Police unions endorsing Trump would be disastrous and align police directly with Trump’s racist, xenophobe, misogynist campaign that has consistently used race and religion to tear at the social fabric of the United States.
The American people respect our law enforcement officers. Sixty-seven percent of Americans rank police officers as among our most prestigious authorities (only 59 percent of Americans feel the same way about religious leaders), according to the latest Harris Poll ranking how Americans feel about different professionals.
We feel that respect because there is recognition that law enforcement officers, often under difficult circumstances, put their lives at risk to protect the common good of our nation.
As a member of the clergy and a long-time advocate for civil rights, I have often been critical of certain policies employed by police departments. These policies, however, are enacted not by the police themselves but by elected local, state and national officials. We need to have civil debates about policing in America. That is particularly true as policing relates to race and those living in poverty.
It is appropriate, for example, for the Black Lives Matters movement, to question why African-Americans are disproportionally arrested, jailed and convicted in a nation where African-Americans are the minority. It is moral to ask why so many African-Americans die in police custody.
My personal experience with law enforcement and I say this as someone who has had some high-profile battles with the Portland Police Bureau over the years, is that many officers want better political leadership, better public policy, strong community relations, and safe communities for everyone. My experience with police unions, which I often support on issues of pay and collective bargaining, are that they use moments of community crisis to inflame matters to build political power. My belief is that we should use these moments to bring people together.
Increasing numbers of Americans are beginning to understand that there are systemic issues of racism with our criminal justice system. Politicians and citizens should be held accountable for working with law enforcement to create changes that make the criminal justice system just for all.
If, however, police unions start to endorse Trump then my diagnoses would be that cancer has infected police unions. Trump is an authoritarian who promotes lawlessness and violence at his political rallies. He is a threat to democracy. Candidates for the presidency lift up role models such as Lincoln or FDR. Trump lifts up Vladimir Putin. How could communities of color – how could nearly any community for that matter – trust their local police if their union endorsed the agenda set forth by Donald Trump?
We need police unions to be working with government, community and faith leaders on agendas of reconciliation and justice that move us toward being a more perfect union. Police unions endorsing Trump would tear our nation further apart.