President Donald Trump signed an executive order Thursday vowing to aggressively enforce existing laws and develop even harsher penalties for "crimes of violence" committed against law enforcement officers.
The attorney general will "review existing federal laws to determine whether those laws are adequate to address [officers'] protection and safety," the order reads. "[Following] that review, [the attorney general will] make recommendations to the president ... including, if warranted, legislation defining new crimes of violence and establishing new mandatory minimum sentences for existing crimes."
The executive order gives new credence to the false narrative of police officers under siege, and calls for action to fight this fake scourge in partnership with the newly confirmed Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The order comes during the safest period for U.S. law enforcement in decades. Although officer fatalities in the line of duty rose to 135 in 2016 — compared with 123 in 2015 — those numbers don't even come close to what they've been for most of the last 60 years.
Here are some figures: The average number of officer deaths since 2012 is 124 per year. From 1961 through 2011, it was 182, peaking at 280 in 1974. Even during the most fatal year of the past decade and a half — 2011, when 177 officers were killed in the line of duty — only 73 were killed by firearms. Traffic-related incidents have been the leading cause of on-duty officer fatalities during this period, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
But Trump's decision isn't based on data or necessity. Trump won the White House on a wave of anti-protester sentiment and antipathy toward the Black Lives Matter movement. He's stood by police even as demonstrators nationwide have rallied against law enforcement racism and violence. In September, Trump secured an endorsement from the Fraternal Order of Police, the largest police union in the United States. The president's "law and order" platform hinges largely on the false claim that crime is skyrocketing nationwide.
Police unions across the country, meanwhile, have peddled the myth that U.S. law enforcement officers are in unique danger today. They cite two high-profile fatal shootings — that of five police officers in Dallas in July and of three in Baton Rouge the same month — as evidence, but mostly, they've levied their complaints against protesters and former President Barack Obama, who they claimed, without any evidence, was anti-police.
The difference is that the protesters' grievances are supported by actual statistics: According to the Guardian's police killing database, law enforcement officers killed 2,238 people between Jan. 1, 2015 and Dec. 31, 2016. In each of those years, black victims were killed at more than twice the rate of whites. Protesters who've tried drawing attention to this disparity have been routinely dismissed by police, right-wing pundits and politicians alike.
On the other hand, the fears expressed by police officers and their unions are rooted primarily in myth. Many states already have increased penalties for crimes against officers, for one thing. And unlike the epidemic of police shootings of civilians, police deaths have yielded proactive legislation. In Louisiana, a "Blue Lives Matter" bill was adopted in May that made police officers a protected class under the state's hate crime statute. Other states have considered similar bills. And in early 2017, at least five other states introduced or passed laws that criminalize nonviolent protest.
Of course, Trump's executive order should come as no surprise, considering the fabricated notion of America as a crime-ridden hellscape has been central to his rise. But as police are given increased protections, civilians' rights are being slowly eaten away. For a president who claims to be an advocate for "the people," Trump has certainly proven himself a much fiercer fighter for the state.