When Will Black Lives Finally Matter To Donald Trump?

Terrance Heath

For all his bloviating about “law and order,” Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has yet to express any serious outrage over police killings of unarmed African-Americans. Will he now, after two more police-involved shootings of black men in the past week?

Terence Crutcher was just trying to get home on Friday night. The 40-year-old father of four, who sang every week in his church choir, had just gotten out of his music appreciation class at Tulsa Community College. His SUV broke down in the middle of the road. Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby and her partner happened upon Crutcher en route to another call. Officer Shelby called for backup. Four more officers, including her husband, responded. A police helicopter hovered overhead.

One of the officers said of Crutcher, “That looks like a bad dude, too.” It had been a long time since Crutcher had been enough of a “bad dude” to warrant that level of police attention. Much will probably be made of Crutcher’s 1996 run-in with law-enforcement, in which he received a six-month suspended sentence for carrying a concealed weapon and resisting a police officer. But Crutcher wasn’t looking for trouble on Friday night. He needed help.

Officers reported that Crutcher was “acting erratically,” refusing to comply with orders, putting his hands in his pockets and reaching into the car window before he was shot. There is no video footage of the moments before Crutcher was shot, because the dashboard camera of the second backup car was obstructed.

Helicopter and dash camera footage shows Crutcher with his hands in the air, slowly backing away from the officers and towards the SUV. Moments later, an officer fires his taser at Crutcher, who is still suffering the effects of that electrical shock when officer Shelby fires her weapon, killing him. This all unfolds within 30 seconds after Shelby’s backup arrives. Crutcher lies there on the road for more than two minutes before the officers bother to check on him.

Tuesday, a police officer in Charlotte, North Carolina shot and killed 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott. At about 4 p.m., investigators were at a Charlotte apartment complex looking for another person who had outstanding warrants, when they said they saw Scott get out of a car with a gun, and then get back in. When they approached, officers said Scott got out of his car again. Officer Brentley Vinson opened fire after deeming him a threat. Scott was taken to the Carolinas Medical Center, where he died.

Scott’s family disputes the police version of events. A woman identified as Scott’s daughter livestreamed the aftermath on Facebook. She said that her father was unarmed at the time of the shooting. Scott, who was disabled, was sitting in the car reading a book while waiting for the school bus to drop his son off. She said she witnessed as her father was told to put his hands up, and as the car window was broken. She also said Scott was tasered and shot four times. About 100 people gathered at the scene of the shooting. Protests soon erupted into widespread unrest in and around Charlotte.

Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton spoke out Monday about Crutcher’s death. During an appearance on “The Steve Harvey Morning Show” Clinton said she wanted to speak “directly to white people,” and let them know “this is not who we are.” She asked, “How many times do we have to see this in our country?”

Clinton’s detailed criminal justice platform calls for an end to racial profiling, commits $1 billion to find and fund the best training programs to address implicit bias in policing, limits the transfer of military equipment to police departments and provides matching federal funding to make body cameras available to every police department in the country.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, has not addressed either shooting directly. He posted two tweets Wednesday morning, one of which called “the situations” in Tulsa and Charlotte “tragic.” What “situations,” in the context Trump has painted of silence in the face of the unjust shootings of unarmed black men while calling for even more aggressive policing in the communities where many of these shootings take place, is doggedly unclear.

However, at a rally in Kenansville, North Carolina, Trump made another ignorant and offensive declaration about African-Americans. “We’re going to rebuild our inner cities because our African-American communities are absolutely in the worst shape they’ve ever been in before. Ever, ever, ever,” Trump said, brushing aside the nation’s history with slavery and North Carolina’s history with Jim Crow and segregation.

For all his bloviating about “law and order,” Trump has said very little about what he would actually do about the problem of inherent, deadly racial bias in policing. If anything, Trump has contributed to the problem with claims that “the overwhelming amount of violent crime in our major cities is committed by blacks and Hispanics” and that the “police are the most mistreated people in America.”

As president, Trump promises to make matters worse. Last month, during a discussion at a Fraternal Order of Police lodge, Trump said he would return military weaponry to police forces, reversing a recall of military equipment undertaken by the federal government after the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. Asked if he would return “military equipment” to law enforcement, Trump answered, “Yes, I would,” calling the situation facing law enforcement “ridiculous.”

Combined with his rhetoric about giving police permission “to go out and counterattack,” Trump’s plan to return military weapons to police could make African American communities look like occupied territories.

Trump answers his own question to African Americans. What do we have to lose under a Trump presidency? We have a lot to lose if Trump makes good on his promise to fill our communities with even more police, equipped with more powerful weapons, and more empowered to use them – with less accountability.

Wednesday night, Donald Trump will hold a televised town hall with Fox News’ Sean Hannity at a black church in Cleveland, Ohio. Trump promises to “discuss the core issues and concerns surrounding African Americans in this 2016 election cycle.” Will he? (Hey, after all, it’s Sean Hannity at Fox News, not, say, someone like Tavis Smiley, who has a talk show with PBS, or Roland Martin, who has a news show on TV One and regularly appears on the Tom Joyner syndicated radio show, one of a number of African-American news and commentary hosts who know the concerns of the community well and could ask deep, probing questions based on that experience. Why would Trump want that?)

Will Donald Trump stop talking about African Americans, or talking past us with faux “outreach” that has more to do with reassuring anxious white voters that he’s not really racist? Will black lives finally matter to Donald Trump? We have yet to see the signs that it does.

Isaiah J. Poole contributed to this post.

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