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Friday, February 17, 2017

Executive Orders Lay Out Agenda to Expand Policing and Incarceration

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trio of executive orders lay out President Trump’s agenda undo important steps toward common-sense police and criminal justice reform, expand mass incarceration, and give police sweeping new powers. While the orders themselves call for the creation of new task forces, reports, policy reviews, and recommendations to Congress, full implementation of this agenda would be dangerous and costly for the nation, would further criminalize communities of color, and would be especially perilous for transgender people.

NCTE and transgender advocates around the country have joined efforts to demand police accountability and end racial profiling and other forms of discriminatory policing. According to the 2015 US Transgender Survey, 57% of trans people say they’d be uncomfortable seeking police help, with higher numbers among Middle Eastern (70%), Black (67%), and multiracial (67%) respondents, disabled respondents (70%), and people living in poverty (67%).  And 58% of transgender people who had contact with police in the last year reported mistreatment by police, ranging from transphobic slurs to excessive force and sexual assault. NCTE has supported bipartisan calls for criminal justice reform, recognizing transgender people experience higher rates of incarceration and extremely high rates of abuse in prisons and jails.

Last week’s executive orders are full of fear-based rhetoric. The first executive order establishes a task force to “reduce crime and restore public safety,” with a focus on further criminalizing immigrants and escalating the drug war. President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have made relentless claims of a crime wave despite crime rates at nearly the lowest level in fifty years. This task force could start to reverse a growing bipartisan movement for common-sense criminal justice reform and instead expand police powers and mass incarceration.

The second executive order establishes a task force to promote legislation creating new mandatory minimum sentences or new categories of crimes (such as hate crime categories) for crimes against law enforcement officers. Proposals to classify charges of assaults against police as “hate crimes” are unnecessary and would do nothing to make officers safer. Laws in every state and at the federal level already make assaults on police a serious crime, and these proposals distract from serious issues of excessive force and biased policing. 

The third executive order directs federal agencies to crack down on “transnational criminal organizations.” The instructions for agencies include focusing on human smuggling and immigration-related fraud as well as drug and weapon smuggling—reinforcing the Trump administration’s narrative that continually links immigrants with crime.

These executive orders are as much about rhetoric as they are about policy, building a narrative of fear to justify dangerous policies and silence calls for reform. NCTE is disturbed by these actions, which while they have little immediate impact, sketch out an agenda for sweeping increases in police power and the criminalization of low-income people, communities of color, and immigrants. NCTE and our partners will closely monitor the Trump administration’s criminal justice and policing policies and push back against implementation of this harmful agenda.

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