In his first 100 days, President Trump followed through on several disturbing campaign promises — sparking chaos and fear and setting the stage for even worse actions moving forward. Youth advocates should be particularly alarmed. After swearing in Attorney General (AG) Jeff Sessions, the president signed three executive orders that doubled down on his troubling law-and-order rhetoric.
President Trump has directed the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to establish a Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety (Task Force), prompting concerns for the safety and well-being of youth of color and immigrant youth. Among several actions, President Trump’s executive order directs the attorney general to gather research and information, identify “deficiencies” in existing laws, and propose legislation to reduce crime and promote public safety.
Sessions’ record on criminal justice, civil rights and immigration issues suggests any proposal from his administration will be harmful for people of color and will setback progressive justice and law enforcement policies. Moreover, President Trump has close ties with the Fraternal Order of Police, which has made several demands for his first 100 days, including ending the federal ban on racial profiling, ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) for immigrant youth and restricting federal aid to “sanctuary cities.”
President Trump campaigned on a message of law and order. Historically, the law-and-order framing has incited fear and emphasized a need for expanded police capacity and harsher sentencing practices as a means of social control, particularly for black and brown communities. Undergirding the law-and-order framing are archaic tactics and strategies, including the use of law enforcement as a response to social distress, criminalization of poverty and adolescent behavior, and expansion of law enforcement’s role and presence into nontraditional settings. And make no mistake: The president’s campaign rhetoric specifically targeted immigrants and communities of color, including African-American communities that have been locked out of economic opportunity and experienced decades of public disinvestment.
“We’re going to rebuild our inner cities because our African American communities are absolutely in the worst shape that they’ve ever been in before,” then candidate Trump said on the campaign trail. “You take a look at the inner cities — you get no education; you get no jobs; you get shot walking down the street.”
In January, Trump took to Twitter, writing: “If Chicago doesn’t fix the horrible ‘carnage’ going on, 228 shootings in 2017 with 42 killings (up 24% from 2016), I will send in the Feds!” And in a February meeting with sheriffs at the White House, Trump stated: “The murder rate in our country is the highest it’s been in 47 years.”
While the national murder rate ticked up from 4.5 to 4.9 homicides per 100,000 people between 2014 and 2015, his claim that that the national murder rate is its highest in 47 years is simply not true. In fact, since 1980, the murder rate has declined nearly 52 percent from a peak of 10.2 murders per 100,000 people. Using false information only incites fear and exacerbates broken-windows policing.
The youth development field has a strong grasp of effective practices that help young people realize their potential and prevent contact with the justice system. This includes investing in youth-serving systems, such as workforce development through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, to helping Opportunity Youth reconnect to school, learn skills and secure good jobs. Other important strategies are developing alternatives to school suspensions and expulsions, eliminating school resource officers, and investing in prevention programs, such as 21st Community Learning Centers, which help children and youth learn and stay safe after school.
To be truly effective, youth strategies must confront implicit bias in law enforcement policies. Consider that youth of color are more likely than their white counterparts to be referred to law enforcement from school as well as stopped by police in public. We know that “stop and frisk,” zero-tolerance policies and broken-windows policing strategies do not work and are antithetical to community trust and safety. These interventions often result in higher rates of recidivism, damage police-community relations, stigmatize youth and limit positive youth-police relationships. They also do nothing to invest in the institutions and systems young people need to grow and succeed.
President Trump’s recent budget offers troubling insights into his administration’s values. It disinvests in low-income youth and communities, loads up on border patrol officers and provides a troubling blueprint for recommendations from the Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety.
Last week, AG Sessions issued an update to U.S. Attorneys and DOJ component heads on the Task Force, which is expected to to provide initial recommendations by July 27 and was directed to hold a National Summit on Crime Reduction and Public Safety within 120 days. The memorandum also outlined key issue areas the Task Force subcommittees will address, which include examining ways to support local partners in enforcement, prevention and reentry efforts, and reviewing existing charging and sentencing policies.
What can be done? Silence in not an option. We urge national, state and community leaders to join CLASP in opposing failed law-and order policies that threaten young people’s healthy development and civil and human rights. One immediate step is contacting your members of Congress to tell them why federal investments matter to the youth you serve and what strategies are working in your community to promote safety and reduce crime. Our nation cannot afford to allow the damage President Trump and AG Jeff Sessions will do if they “fix it” by “sending in the feds.”
Kisha Bird is director of youth policy at the Center for Law and Social Policy and project director for the Campaign for Youth, a national coalition chaired by CLASP. Focusing on local and federal policy solutions, she works to expand access to education, employment and support services for low-income and opportunity youth, with a focus on young men and women of color.