Can Trump lead on police reform after backing ‘comply or die’?

President Donald Trump sided with the “Comply or Die” wing of the Republican Party and the police establishment during a Fox News interview on Wednesday night, arguing that “you can’t resist a police officer.”

“I thought it was a terrible situation, but you can’t resist a police officer,” Trump said. “And, you know, if you have a disagreement, you have to take it up after the fact.”

He said that “police have not been treated fairly,” but when a police officer is murdered, justice is swift. When a citizen is murdered by a police officer the bar to prove guilt is so high that convictions in the US are rare.

Police have so much control over the evidence at the scene of a killing, such as turning body cameras on and off, planting evidence and claiming they are in fear of unarmed victims, that corrupt officers can literally get away with murder.

 Trump supports the notion that it is OK for former Atlanta officer Garrett Rolfe to fatally shoot Rayshard Brooks in the back from 18 feet away because he fled with a taser last Friday. The officer was charged with felony murder among other charges after killing Brooks in the parking lot of a Wendy’s restaurant. Police have repeatedly argued in court that a taser is a non-lethal weapon when citizens are killed and juries have agreed.

“I don’t know that I would have necessarily believed that, but I will tell you, that’s a very interesting thing and maybe that’s so,” Trump said. “They are going to have to find out. It’s up to justice right now. It’s going to be up to justice. I hope he gets a fair shake because police have not been treated fairly in our country. They have not been treated fairly,” Trump said.

It will be very difficult for the president to be an honest broker of police reform if he is not prepared to confront the police establishment and its apologists who believe citizens should “comply with police or die” regardless of the circumstances or the actions of the officers. That is a blanket endorsement of the use of lethal force whenever a citizen and an officer interact as long as the officer perceives that the citizen is not complying with his orders. Unarmed citizens have been killed for reaching for a drivers license or holding a cellphone.

Resisting arrest should not give police officers a license to kill an American citizen if there is no immediate threat to the officer’s life. Should citizens comply with the orders of police? Yes. Should police have the authority to extra-judicially execute a citizen on the street who is not an immediate threat for the crime of resisting arrest? No.

Rolfe violated at least seven police department policies governing the use of force, including kicking the victim after allegedly shooting him in the back and failing to immediately administer medical aid, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said Wednesday.

Warrants were issued for the former police officer on 11 charges, including felony murder, multiple counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and seven violations of his office.

Warrants were also issued for Devin Brosnan, another officer who was at the scene of the shooting on two counts of violations of oath and one count of aggravated assault. He indicated through his attorney that he did not agree to testify against his fellow officer, a claim Howard denied on Thursday.

It is rare for police officers to break the so-called “blue wall of silence.” It’s time to stamp out the culture in law enforcement that sanctions the “no snitching” ethos of mob bosses.

“We’ve concluded that at the time Mr. Brooks was shot, he did not pose an imminent threat of serious injury to the officers,” Howard said.

He added that there is photographic and video evidence, as well as statements from at least 10 witnesses, that Rolfe allegedly ignored his training and department policies when Brooks attempted to run from him and he opened fire multiple times in a crowded parking lot, hitting the victim twice in the back and endangering the lives of other patrons. One bullet entered a nearby car occupied by three men.

Rolfe was accused of violating numerous rules in the Atlanta Police Department Policy Manual regarding the use of force, specifically one governing restrictions on the conduct of officers in apprehending a suspect. The rule reads that lethal force can only be used if an officer “reasonably believes that the suspect possesses a deadly weapon or any object, device, or instrument which, when used offensively against a person, is likely to or actually does result in serious bodily injury and when he or she reasonably believes that the suspect poses an immediate threat of serious bodily injury to the officer or others.

Trump repeated the claim of Rolfe’s lawyer that he “heard a sound like a gunshot” and “saw a flash in front of him.” The Atlanta officer’s excuse that he feared for his life from a man he already patted down and shot at an 18-foot distance (5.5 metres) while running away with a non-lethal weapon is not credible.

What the president should have done was encourage all parties to follow the facts of the case and let the court assess whether the cop’s actions complied with the laws in Atlanta governing police conduct and the use of force under the circumstances that took place that night. He should not be taking the side of police over a citizen without letting the judicial system carefully examine the evidence first.

He should not put his thumb on the scale in favor of the officer or Brooks. He has to be a neutral broker, lobbying for a justice system that’s fair to all parties, not weighing in on a criminal case before it even reaches a jury.