How Endorsement Of Trump Could Affect Legitimacy Of Police
TONYA MOSLEY, HOST:
Police unions have embraced President Trump, and many have endorsed his reelection. They supported him in 2016 too. But this year, the partisan divide is more stark as police themselves have become a central issue in this year's campaign. NPR's Martin Kaste reports.
MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Police have always been a big part of President Trump's political branding.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: My agenda is anti-crime and pro-cop all the way, and that's what it's got to be.
KASTE: That's him in August, accepting the endorsement of the Police Benevolent Association, which represents New York City cops. Trump also has the endorsement of the biggest national union group, the Fraternal Order of Police. The FOP's endorsement vote for Trump was overwhelming, according to the executive director, Jim Pasco.
JIM PASCO: We only have two candidates to choose from. We choose the one who supports us.
KASTE: Pasco has years of experience in Washington. And he says there was a time when police unions could find supporters in both political parties but not so much right now.
PASCO: We can't cobble together those coalitions like we used to because we have become so estranged from those on the left, the more liberal politicians, and can only find, generally speaking, support on the right.
KASTE: William Jones agrees. He's a University of Minnesota professor who's studying the history of police unions. And he says the police used to be able to count on supporters from the law-and-order wings of both parties.
WILLIAM JONES: That's become increasingly difficult for Democrats.
KASTE: Especially this year, as police use-of-force incidents have caused huge protests, some of them violent, and local Democratic officials have talked about rethinking or even defunding the police. The Democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden, does not call for defunding. He talks instead about reforming and improving police. And his tone appeals to the police brass, especially big-city chiefs. But all the while, the Republicans are going for broke in their appeals to the rank-and-file officers - historian William Jones.
JONES: You've seen on the right, particularly under Trump, a sort of ramping up and sort of hyperpoliticization of those law-and-order politics to say that, you know, there is no room for any criticism of police. And that's something new.
KASTE: Still, cops are hardly monolithic when it comes to politics. Some Black officers have protested their union's endorsement of President Trump. The FOP local in Philadelphia made a point of saying that it had not made an endorsement for president. And it goes beyond unions. Mitchell Davis is the chief in Hazel Crest, a Chicago suburb. He says he's had to navigate some tricky internal politics. For instance, some of his officers wanted to wear Black Lives Matter face masks, and he had to say no.
MITCHELL DAVIS: It's not because we were against Black Lives Matter but because if we did that, we had to open it up for everybody. And we didn't want to have five different masks representing five different viewpoints.
KASTE: Police officers have First Amendment rights, but their departments can limit their political expression, especially when they're in uniform. Chief Davis is a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives. And he says lately, he's found himself in the role of a kind of political interpreter. For instance, he's had to explain to Black people why police like him revere the thin blue line emblem as a memorial for cops killed on duty. But he's also had to explain to fellow police why Black people take offense at the phrase blue lives matter.
DAVIS: That communication with both sides and being considered the neutral party allowed me to have that conversation with them. Now, did everybody agree with everything I said? Absolutely not.
KASTE: But Davis says that communication is crucial, especially now during a heated national campaign. He says the key to countering the impression of political bias among the police is for the officers to show that they're part of the local community first and foremost.
Martin Kaste, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.