Trump says police reform can’t sacrifice protections for law enforcement

President Trump on Wednesday said any police reform legislation must not sacrifice protections for law enforcement as he increasingly shifts his focus to targeting protesters and those who have attempted to deface or bring down statues of historical figures in recent days.

Trump held a joint press conference in the Rose Garden with Polish President Andrzej Duda hours after Senate Democrats blocked a GOP police reform bill from advancing.

The president had backed the legislation, authored by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), and blamed Democrats, who said the legislation did not go far enough, for the package stalling. But he indicated he was unwilling to accept a compromise that would weaken protections for police as lawmakers search for a way forward.

“The Democrats don’t want to do it because they want to weaken our police. They want to take away immunity. … They want to take away a lot of the strength from our police and from law enforcement generally, and we can’t live with that,” Trump said. 

“Mitch wants it to happen,” Trump said of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “I would like to see it happen, but we won’t sacrifice. We won’t do that. We won’t do anything that’s going to hurt our police.”

The president has dug in on his calls for law and order and his support of law enforcement in recent weeks as protests persist across the country following the death of George Floyd and other African Americans who were killed by police, such as Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks.

As lawmakers have attempted to address concerns about police brutality and racial injustice through legislation, Trump has largely focused on cultural fights, zeroing in on the conduct of certain unruly protesters and calling for a crackdown on those targeting monuments in particular.

On Wednesday, he cited Chicago, Detroit and Seattle as examples of cities run by Democrats that he believes have devolved into lawlessness. Trump and other conservatives have fixated on Seattle in particular after dozens of protesters established an “autonomous zone” near a vacated police station.

“We have one city or two cities in particular worse than Honduras, worse than Afghanistan,” he said.

Trump a day earlier pledged that any attempt to establish an “autonomous zone” in the nation’s capital would be met with “serious force.” Twitter later added a notice to the tweet saying it violated the platform’s rules against threatening harm to an identifiable group.

The president has simultaneously seized on the fight over whether to take down monuments honoring Confederate leaders and other controversial historical figures to appeal to his base, framing it as a matter of protecting the country’s heritage.

Trump is expected to sign an executive order this week reinforcing existing laws that criminalize the defacement of memorials or statues. The order may be largely symbolic, though the president has been adamant that he supports lengthy jail sentences for those caught desecrating statues.

There has been renewed discussion over the past month about whether to take down statues honoring Confederate leaders or rename military bases bearing their names.

While a number of cities have announced they would remove Confederate symbols from public spaces, some protesters have taken matters into their own hands, defacing or toppling monuments, including a statue of Jefferson Davis in Richmond, Va., as well as others associated more generally with racist policies and rhetoric, such as former Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo and various statues of Christopher Columbus.

Demonstrators in Wisconsin on Tuesday brought down two statues outside of the state Capitol, including one of anti-slavery activist Hans Christian Heg, while protesters in San Francisco last week toppled a statue of former president and Union general Ulysses S. Grant.

On Monday, protesters tried to bring down a statue of Andrew Jackson outside the White House.

Trump on Wednesday suggested protesters were targeting statues of the country’s founders and even Jesus Christ, an apparent reference to calls from progressive activist Shaun King to take down such statues.

“Now they’re looking at Jesus Christ. They’re looking at George Washington. They’re looking at Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson,” Trump said. “Not going to happen. Not going to happen. Not as long as I’m here.” 

Tags Confederate monuments Confederate statues Donald Trump Mitch McConnell police reform Tim Scott

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