On Friday, Donald Trump spoke to Long Island police officers about the MS-13 gang, encouraging law enforcement to get “rough” with the “thugs.” “We’re getting rid of them,” the President said. “But we can do it faster…please don’t be too nice.”
Trump on handling suspected criminals: "Don't be too nice" to "thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon" https://t.co/rZyICcW4Yr
— NBC News (@NBCNews) July 28, 2017
MS-13, a gang started by Central American immigrants, recruits undocumented teenagers from Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, and El Salvador. The gang is notorious for ruthless murder on Long Island, so Trump’s condemnation is unsurprising. This “tough on crime” rhetoric, however, displays an utter misunderstanding of the criminal justice system.
Trump’s words echo those of Nixon, Reagan, and Clinton, but today, the harmful effects of police brutality are far more evident. The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and people from African American and Latino communities are disproportionately targeted at a disturbing rate.
Sociologist Alice Goffman said, “We’re in this exciting moment where we’ve had 40 years of being ‘tough on crime,’ and we’ve finally come to recognize that it really hasn’t worked very well.”
Mass incarceration is the direct result of the speeches and policies created by politicians who promised to be “tough on crime” – the difference is, Trump has historical proof that it’s ineffective, and he’s still promoting the same brutal standards.
In Long Island, Trump said, “we’ve started nipping [gang violence] in the bud,” but he failed to lay out any legitimate plans. According to Trump’s current philosophy, it is likely that his solution would be anti-gang raids led by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This plan just doesn’t work.
During a six-week gang sweep this year, ICE made 1,378 arrests. But nearly 70 percent of those were American citizens.
— Frances Robles (@FrancesRobles) July 28, 2017
As American Magazine noted, police brutality and mass incarceration “abandons our collective moral responsibility…both for the criminals it fails to rehabilitate and for the communities and families left scarred by their absence.”
Trump’s speech doesn’t just alter officers’ attitudes toward gang members. If the most powerful man in the country tells you to use force against “thugs,” you will comply. Add implicit bias into the equation, and it’s a recipe for disaster.
Also published on Medium.