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Exploiting the Fear of Black Men

Updated: Jun 22, 2020

President Trump signs police "reform" executive order.

Yesterday, President Trump, flanked by police officers from across the country, signed an executive order aimed primarily at encouraging police departments nationwide to undergo more training and stop using chokeholds as a means of subduing people.

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It was an obligatory, though inadequate attempt to address the use of excessive force by police on unarmed citizens in black communities. In ways that were both obvious and infuriating, Trump’s executive order/response was just the latest in an attempt to convey concern and commitment to addressing a problem he only exacerbates: fear of black men.

Sight and Symbolism

There were obvious similarities between the slave-patrolling sheriffs of the pre-war South and those law enforcement officers present for the signing of the executive order.

As the gathering of mostly white men, one even clad in a cowboy hat, stood clapping in support of a toothless executive order that does nothing to address a glaring racial disparity in how police approach and apprehend unarmed black people, it was apparent that the “us versus them” mentality that fuels unchecked and unpunished brutality in communities of color will likely continue as it is fueled by Trump himself.

The president has yet to publicly address the disproportionate deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of law enforcement, the lack of punishment for officers who are disciplined or charged for killing black citizens or the reason why nationwide and global protests have erupted: racism. Instead, he’s tweeted messages that seek to create fissures in the multiracial, multi-ethnic coalition of protesters by feeding into underlying racial fears of black men.

The Boogey Man is Black

In a tweet this week, Trump asked if anyone thought suburban moms would be eager to defund the police.

Not one to waste an opportunity to reinforce stereotypes, his tweet implies that only white women (suburban women) are concerned about law enforcement while simultaneously stoking fear about the prospect of eliminating the police altogether. After all, if that happens, who will protect suburban (white) moms and their families from the boogey men (black men)?

To be clear, defunding the police does not mean disbanding them.

Most people advocating cuts in police funding want to re-direct money to other services – social services, education/training and mental health, for example – rather than pour massive funds into police departments, especially in black neighborhoods.

Supporting ever-growing police budgets while simultaneously reducing funding for social programs, mental health, training and education not only provides more resources in support of some officers who abuse their powers, but also does nothing to reduce the underlying causes of criminal activity: chronic unemployment, drug use, mental health and lack of education.

Thus, defunding may be an option to reduce abuse and fix the societal ills of black communities.

His Bet on Black Fear

Trump knows that reinforcing racial stereotypes rooted in white fear of black men works to his advantage as the self-labeled “law and order” president. If he can give lip service to quelling the racial unrest and concern about police killings of unarmed black people while simultaneously embracing white supremacist law enforcement tactics and optics, then he’s achieved his goal of upholding the status quo while playing the part of a concerned leader.

And if he can do it as the cameras click at a largely ceremonial, yet obviously racially loaded photo opportunity, all the better.

After all, Trump’s end game is to stoke racial fear and use it as a tool to win re-election. That’s his only end game here. And you can bet he’ll continue to play on fear of black men to win at all costs.

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