Donald Trump has signed an executive order to reform police practices in the US, including encouraging state and local officials to ban the use of law enforcement chokeholds “except if an officer’s life is at risk”.
Mr Trump said his executive order would give federal grants from the US Department of Justice to police departments that “seek independent credentialing, certifying that they meet high standards” or carry out training in the “use of force and de-escalation”.
Mr Trump said the order banned chokeholds. But according to its text, state and local law enforcement agencies will instead face the loss of federal grants if they do not take steps to prohibit chokeholds — defined as “a physical manoeuvre that restricts an individual’s ability to breathe for the purposes of incapacitation” — in their official policies. The order makes an exception for “situations where the use of deadly force is allowed by law”.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House, faulted the order for lacking “meaningful, mandatory accountability measures to end misconduct,” and urged congressional Republicans to be more ambitious.
Republican senators are expected to present their own legislative proposals later this week. Their effort is being led by Tim Scott, the sole black Republican senator. Mr Scott was at Tuesday’s Rose Garden ceremony alongside Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s top Republican.
The US president signed the executive order in the White House Rose Garden on Tuesday afternoon, just over three weeks after George Floyd was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Floyd’s death sparked widespread protests across America and around the world — and has piled pressure on the White House and Capitol Hill to clamp down on police misconduct and address race-related inequalities and discrimination.
“We are looking at new advanced and powerful, less lethal, weapons to help prevent deadly interactions,” the president said at the signing, adding the executive order would also require police departments to share information about “credible abuses” by officers.
He said the order also directed more federal funding to police forces responding to issues involving the homeless or people with substance abuse or mental health issues.
Mr Trump sought to place some of the blame for the spate of police misconduct on his Democratic rival in November, former vice-president Joe Biden, saying Mr Biden and President Barack Obama failed to take enough action during their time in office.
“President Obama and Vice-President Biden never even tried to fix this during their eight-year period [in office]. The reason they didn’t try is because they had no idea how to do it,” he said.
Mr Obama set up a national task force on policing in 2014, after police shot and killed African American Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Eric Holder, then US attorney-general, led an investigation into Brown’s killing and the Ferguson Police Department, and the Obama administration repeatedly used “consent decrees” to address problems within police forces.
The reform bill being pushed by Democrats in Congress, introduced last week, would ban police chokeholds, create a national registry to track police misconduct, make it easier for prosecutors to seek criminal and civil penalties for police abuse, and ban certain “no-knock” warrants, which allow officers to forcibly enter properties.
Republicans, including Mr Trump, swiftly rejected the Democrats’ proposals, accusing the party of wanting to “defund” and “abolish” the police.
Activists in many cities have called on authorities to “defund” and “dismantle” police forces, though Democrats on Capitol Hill have said they want to focus on reforming, rather than scrapping, existing systems, and have said they support “rebalancing” funding away from policing towards areas such as education, mental health services and youth programmes.