Activists — including civil rights groups and those working to bridge the gap between the police and the people they serve — swiftly rebuked Donald Trump's acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention on Thursday.
As Trump accepted the party’s nomination for president, he proclaimed himself the “law and order” candidate, angrily tugging at the soul strings of countless disaffected Americans who feel that they’re losing their grip on the country and who fear myriad attacks from afar and from within.
“Our convention occurs at a moment of crisis for our nation,” Trump said. “The attacks on our police, and the terrorism in our cities, threaten our very way of life."
His imagery was striking and dark, conjuring marauding illegal immigrants bent on crime and routine deadly attacks on police officers. He evoked the “law and order” phrase no less than four times, in a barely masked homage to the hard-line political and police stance used during the tumult of the 1960s to stamp out protests and political rebellion.
Many have called the speech divisive, dangerous and laden with lies or half-truths.
The founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, which came to prominence following the killing of unarmed black teen Michael Brown Jr. in Ferguson, Missouri, called the record-long speech a “dog whistle.”
“Whether it was Richard Nixon unleashing a war on drugs or George Wallace’s more overt war on black people, we’ve heard it all before and won’t be fooled again,” said Alicia Garza, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter.
“The terrifying vision that Donald J. Trump is putting forward casts him alongside some of the worst fascists in history,” she added. “Black people and our allies have unequivocally demanded a new path forward for safety in our communities, one that involves real accountability for police. While our movement envisions a bright future where everyone is treated with dignity and respect, Trump is proposing a new, dark age where police have carte blanche authority to terrorize our communities.”
The NAACP, noting that Trump declined to speak at the group’s 107th annual convention, said Trump also declined to “speak so much as a whisper of substance on the issues of concern of millions of supporters and members of the NAACP.”
“The speech lends itself to be interpreted as isolating and scapegoating of communities of color. It is concerning that, for some people, the ills to which Donald Trump pointed may be interpreted as caused by communities of color, rather than by a corrosive system where people of color have been terrorized and brutalized for centuries,” said Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of the Advancement Project’s national office. “Not once were the names and stories of people like Philando Castille and Alton Sterling mentioned. Also excluded was Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy gunned down by police as he played in a park in Cleveland.”
Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, an activist minister, said Trump’s speech was a throwback — a Nixonian strategy that has been used historically to “repress social movements.”
“What is equally horrifying is the fact that he has gotten millons of votes, which indicates that he is articulating the hopes and aspirations of millions of Americans," Sekou said.
Former Police Chief Ronal Serpas, the chairman of the Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, said Trump’s description of crime on the rise contradicts what many people who study crime trends have found.
“What we heard runs counter to what American law enforcement knows to be true: Our country's crime rates are at historic lows. Misrepresenting these facts only makes our job harder,” Serpas said. “As the candidates develop their policy platforms, we hope they will engage with the men and women who have spent decades keeping our country safe. We know from our experience the best way to do that: Stop wasting resources indiscriminately locking more people behind bars and instead focus on preventing and enforcing violent crime.”
An NBC News fact-check found a mix of half-truths and false claims in Trumps recounting of society’s ills, from his claims on poverty and unemployment among African-American communities to rates of violent crime.
But perhaps some of the most incendiary notes struck by Trump involved attacks on police officers. In recent weeks, the killing of eight police officers and the wounding of several others in two separate incidents in Dallas and Baton Rouge have stirred much hurt, complicating already strained relations between police and those who’ve aggressively protested abuses committed by cops.
Trump in his rhetoric and tone on Thursday suggested that violence against police has recently skyrocketed. Certainly the latest violence against cops, in the context of ongoing outrage over the deaths of black men at their hands, has stoked those concerned for police officer safety.
"The number of police officers killed in the line of duty has risen by almost 50 percent compared to this point last year," Trump said. "Immediately after Dallas, we’ve seen continued threats and violence against our law enforcement officials. Law officers have been shot or killed in recent days in Georgia, Missouri, Wisconsin, Kansas, Michigan, and Tennessee. On Sunday, more police were gunned down in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Three were killed, and three were very, very badly injured."
The 50 percent stat on officer deaths is false, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, which tracks police fatalities. As of July 22, the day after his speech, the number of officers killed on duty is up 6 percent, from 63 percent at this point last year compared to 67 percent today. That includes death by all means, including auto accidents, etc. The number of officers killed by guns has spiked though, from 19 to 32 over the same time period. That’s a jump of 68 percent, largely attributed to the massacres in Dallas and Baton Rouge.
Recent data shows that police today are safer today than they have been in decades.
According to analysis by the Washington Post, the average number of officers killed during Obama’s presidency is much lower than his predecessors. During the Reagan administration between 1981 and 1988, an average of 101 officers were killed on duty each year. That number continued to drop through the following administrations, arriving at 62 a year between 2009 and 2015 — Obama's time in office.