Trump Encourages Police to Go After Latinos

President Donald Trump spoke to a group of law enforcement officials in New York on Friday, July 28th, encouraging them to go after people of color. His message, in part, was telling them “Don’t be too nice,” to suspects taken into custody for questioning. Law enforcement officials in the background had smiles on their faces and cheered as he said:

They have transformed peaceful parks and beautiful, quiet neighborhoods into blood stained killing fields. They’re animals. We cannot tolerate…as a society, the spilling of innocent, young, wonderful, vibrant people….But I have a simple message today for every gang member and criminal alien that are threatening so violently our people. We will find you. We will arrest you. We will jail you. And we will deport you.

It is easy to imagine whom Trump is referring to as “animals” who should be deported here. (He has famously done something similar before in referencing later-found-innocent black teenagers in a New York City Central Park rape case.) As Natalia Molina shows in How Race is Made in America, these are old racial scripts Trump is calling upon. Racial scripts are racial messages used over and over again throughout history in ways that can be reused and understood for “new rounds of dehumanization and demonization in the next generation or even the next debate” (Molina p. 7).

The racialization of Latinos as heavily or disproportionately gang members, as criminal aliens, and as animals has been circulating in this country for a very long time now as has been documented by Feagin and Cobas in Latinos Facing Racism. So, it is easy to imagine who Trump plans to “find,” “arrest,” “jail,” and “deport” in his “simple message” to “every gang member and criminal alien.”

President Trump then went on to say:

And when you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just see them being thrown in. Rough. I said, Please. Don’t. Be. Too. Nice. [Laughter] Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head….I said, you can take the hand away okay.” [Police Cheers and clapping].

This message by the president contributes to systemic racism in US society, defined by Feagin and Cobas as:

[T]he persisting racial hierarchy, the discriminatory practices, and the racist institutions integral to the long-term white domination of Americans of color. This group domination involves not only racialized institutions, the macro level of oppression, but also the micro-level reality of a great many whites repeatedly discriminating in blatant, subtle, and covert ways against people of color in everyday settings (p. 14).

Yet another generation of Latinos continues to be “othered” and to experience systemic racism in American society because the president is openly encouraging law enforcement officials to vilify them. Viewing Latinos with this racialized framing underscores Leo R. Chavez’s argument that Latinos have been socially constructed as a threat in the U.S., and Trump’s remarks to law enforcement are only the latest example from the bully pulpit. In a time of increasing presidential pronouncements and tweets as a way to make public policy, it is easy to see how Trump is dehumanizing brown and black males in his statement to police.

My heart aches for adolescent Latino, Native American, Black, and other youth of color who are coming of age in a country that continues to find ways to dehumanize them. I think of my cousins, my brothers, and my oldest son who is darker than my youngest son and I fear for them all. As Native American author Sherman Alexie states in his memoir:

I never directly feared for my life and career during a Republican presidency until Trump won office” (p. 228).

This normalizing of the calls for violence against people of color by the state in President Trump’s speech to the police should cause us all to fear for our lives, families, and friends. It should cause us to fear for our very country.

While Trump’s remarks drew condemnation from law enforcement leadership across the country, the cheering of the rank-and-file in the moment to his racist and repugnant comments remains deeply disturbing. Similarly, during the election his supporters also cheered and encouraged this type of racialized hate. For Latinos and other people of color who have lived with this kind of vilification for generations, it is likely we should expect more of this to come from the president and from those who have been emboldened by what Leslie H. Picca and Joe Feagin call frontstage racism. These are very scary times we are living in for people of color when hate is being openly promoted and supported by our government leaders from the most powerful man in the U.S. down to our street-level (police) bureaucrats.

Trump’s Impact on Americans of Color

The evidence in his first 100 days — by word, deed, and policy — couldn’t be clearer. Our president does not care for people of color. No? Let’s look at the evidence. It is voluminous.

Immediately after his hallucinatory inauguration, President Donald Trump loudly reaffirmed the need to keep Mexicans out of the United States, and that a “beautiful” wall would be erected quickly to bar Mexico’s riffraff from entering our nation.

And Mexico would pay for the wall, a hot air balloon that has progressively become deflated — going from “Mexico will definitely pay for the wall,” to “well, we will impose taxes that will result in Mexico really paying for the wall,” to “OK, work with me on this —Congress will provide the money to build the wall until Mexico pays for it.” This occurs despite much evidence suggesting that the wall will not stop undocumented immigration.

A week after his inauguration, Trump decreed a travel ban affecting seven Muslim countries, which caught many people off guard and generated massive havoc for travelers worldwide. Soon afterward, a federal judge in Washington state overturned the travel ban. Trump responded with Muslim Ban Lite. He did minor tweaks, excluding Iraq from the travel ban. Shortly, two federal judges — in Hawaii and Maryland — ruled against the second travel ban.

Trump issued an executive order in late January that reaffirmed that the wall would go up and expanded the categories of people who could be deported. The order also called for a significant increase in Border Patrol agents and immigration officers. The edict also mandated an expansion of detention centers, a worrisome measure. Private detention centers, the largest run by CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) and GEO Group, are sure to make massive profits once the Trump mass deportation machine goes into effect. As of early March, the stock value of CoreCivic had risen by 120 percent since the November election, and that of GEO increased by 80 percent.

This is a significant change from September when private detention centers were at risk of losing their contracts with the government. The Department of Justice had decided to phase out private prisons because of declining prisoner populations and major concerns about safety, security and medical care.

While the massive deportations have not yet materialized, there is intense fear in the immigrant community. That’s because even people without criminal records are potential deportees. Trump and Attorney General Jeff Session have threatened communities and counties with the loss of federal funds if they designate themselves as sanctuary cities, places that provide safe space for unauthorized immigrants — particularly those entities that do not fully cooperate with immigration officials on detainer requests. A federal judge in San Francisco recently ruled against Trump on this as well. Dreamers — undocumented immigrants brought here as children — are also unsure about their security. Trump has suggested that he likes them and will not put them at risk, but there is plenty of cause in Trump’s record to worry.

Haitian immigrants who were granted special immigration status following the devastating earthquake that shook Haiti in 2010 also face uncertainty as Trump has yet to renew their status. If he does not do so by July 22, approximately 50,000 Haitians risk deportation. While mass incarceration has disproportionately snared people of color over the past four decades, recent criminal justice reform represented a ray of hope.

But Trump and Sessions now seek to undo these measures. Never mind that the crime rate is about 42 percent below that in 1997. believing that the Department of Justice should not take on that role.

All these efforts will put people of color at greater risk of being racially profiled, disproportionately arrested and sentenced, and having their civil rights violated. People of color and, more broadly, the poor were targeted in Trump’s unsuccessful effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. Trump had an embarrassing setback in not being able to eliminate Obamacare. Yet he is not giving up. He and congressional allies continue to try to dismantle Obamacare piecemeal, now concentrating on cost-share subsidies. He tried to swap $1 of such subsidies for every $1 that Democrats pony up for the border wall.

Despite the problems that plague Obamacare, it continues to be a lifeline for many people who otherwise could not afford health insurance. According to data from the American Community Survey, between 2010 (when Obamacare was signed but before it went into effect) and 2015, 26.7 million more Americans had insurance; the majority of them were white. The number of poor Americans with health care insurance rose by nearly 4.3 million during this five-year period, again with poor whites being the largest group (39 percent) of new beneficiaries. Many of these poor whites rallied behind Trump and helped put him in the White House. Obviously, Trump does not have their best interests in mind.

Trump has surrounded himself with few people of color. His Cabinet is the least diverse since that of Ronald Reagan. Nearly four-fifths of Trump’s 33 Cabinet members are white men. Only four are persons of color (two Asians, one African-American and one Latino) and merely five are women (two of whom are doing double duty as a female and a person of color). Throughout his campaign, Trump used hateful racist rhetoric against people of color. He embraced alt-right and white nationalist groups, and selected a prominent member of these groups —-Stephen Bannon—- to serve as his chief strategist.

It is not surprising that in his first 100 days as president — marked on April 29 — Trump has shown that he is not a friend of people of color. His policies and priorities are intended to firmly put people of color in their place, including through deportations and by not allowing others to enter our country. This is what he envisioned in his quest to “make America great again.” In the process, however, Trump has alienated and insulted so many groups — including people of color, the poor, women, immigrants, Muslims, the GLBTQ community and others — that he has roused the American spirit of protest. He has politicized many good people who realize they cannot accept Trump as normal and that he must be vigorously challenged.

This has the real possibility of making Trump either a one-term president or bringing about his impeachment over the numerous questionable and unethical actions that continue to pile up.

Rogelio Sáenz is Dean of the College of Public Policy and holds the Mark G. Yudof Endowed Chair at the University of Texas at San Antonio. He is co-author of Latinos in the United States: Diversity and Change. (Note: This article was originally published in the San Antonio Express-News on May 6, 2017.)