Trump signs order pushing to reduce US police violence

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Washington (AFP)

US President Donald Trump responded to nationwide anger at racism and deadly police violence Tuesday with measures aimed at reforming police forces, including a push to end dangerous choke holds during arrests.

In a Rose Garden ceremony attended by police and Republican congressional allies, but no black civil rights representatives or political opponents, Trump said "we have to break old patterns of failure."

The president has limited power over policing, which is run mostly at a state and local level. However, Trump said that he would use access to federal funding grants as leverage to persuade departments "to adopt the highest professional standards."

His executive order encourages de-escalation training, better recruitment, sharing of data on police who have bad records, and money to support police in complicated duties related to people with mental or drug issues.

A highlight of Trump's proposals, which he said could be complimented by legislation being negotiated in the Republican-controled Senate, was ending choke holds "except if an officer's life is at risk," he said.

- Praise for police -

Trump began by announcing he'd just met in private with families of several black people killed in encounters with the police.

"We are one nation. We grieve together and we heal together," he said.

However, Trump's choice to keep the televised audience overwhelmingly white, male and focused on law enforcement representatives reinforced his message that racism has nothing to do with police violence.

"Americans know the truth: without police, there is chaos, without law, there is anarchy and without safety, there is catastrophe," Trump said.

Only a "very tiny" number of police commit wrongdoing, he said in remarks that frequently veered into a campaign speech about his accomplishments.

Democrats and civil rights groups say that full-scale rethinking of police culture, and even cuts in police funding, are needed to bring necessary change.

"While the president has finally acknowledged the need for policing reform, one modest executive order will not make up for his years of inflammatory rhetoric and policies designed to roll back the progress made in previous years," said the top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer.

A first wave of unrest began more than three weeks ago, after the May 25 death of George Floyd, an African-American man, in Minneapolis.

Floyd stopped breathing when an officer kneeled on his neck, having already handcuffed him during arrest for a minor offense. Amateur video of the incident sparked demonstrations nationwide and in some places looting and arson.

New tension erupted last week after the death in Atlanta, Georgia, of Rayshard Brooks, another African American whom police say was shot in the back as he ran away from arresting officers, having grabbed one of their tasers and aimed it at them.

Seeing public opinion shift less than five months before November's presidential and congressional elections, Republicans are moving quickly not to be left behind on the highly emotional issue.

According to a senior White House official, who spoke on condition of not being identified, Trump's executive order was meant to deliver "the discussion that the country needs to have... and hopefully bring some unification and some healing."

- Campaign slogan -

But Trump has struck a hardline tone throughout the tense period, sparking uproar even from his own party with his warning that he could send federal troops to cities unable to control the crowds.

The president clearly felt that the tough approach played well with his base, a passionately loyal minority of the electorate that he hopes will power him to a win, however narrow, in November. The slogan "law and order" has become a new pillar of his reelection campaign platform.

Trump's frequently lukewarm attempts to express empathy for the fear and powerlessness that many black Americans say they feel on a daily basis when encountering police left a vacuum that his Democratic opponent Joe Biden is seeking to fill.

"Systemic racism pervades every part of our society, including law enforcement -- and we have to do the hard work to root it out," Biden tweeted Tuesday.