Trump’s ‘law and order’ message more complicated this time around on campaign trail

Presumptive Republican nominee for president Donald Trump called for “law and order” while attending the wake of a slain police officer on Thursday, even as he faces his own criminal trials and a judge this week citing his history of “incendiary” remarks that have threatened the safety of public officials.

Trump spoke after visiting the family of New York Police Department officer Jonathan Diller. Trump called Diller’s shooting death “such a sad, sad event, such a horrible thing.”

“We have to get back to law and order. We have to do a lot of things differently. This is not working. This is happening too often,” Trump said.

Trump did not elaborate on what he meant. On social media this week, Trump called the suspect in Diller’s shooting a “thug” and noted that police said the shooter had numerous prior arrests, declaring that he “NEVER should have been let back out on the streets.”

Trump has seized on violent crime in his previous presidential campaigns — his 2017 inauguration speech famously promised an end to “American carnage” — but things are different on the campaign trail this time.

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A day of extreme highs and lows for Trump in court

Former U.S. president Donald Trump received two very different court rulings Monday as one judge ruled his criminal trial will start on April 15, while another slashed the bond requirement in his New York civil fraud trial.

The former president has been criminally indicted four times: for offences related to his efforts to prevent his 2020 election loss, for his handling of classified documents at his properties after leaving office and on allegations of falsifying business records to cover up payments that prevented damaging information coming to light during the 2016 campaign.

Presidential actions

Legislation that addressed violent crime was not a hallmark of Trump’s presidency. The Trump administration banned bump stocks, a gun accessory, after the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history in Las Vegas in 2017, though the legality of that measure is currently being weighed by the Supreme Court.

In 2018, Trump also met with several students and their families from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., promising meaningful gun control reform after a mass shooting in February of that year, but efforts from the White House and in Congress fizzled. Trump soon after appeared at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention, promising to defend expansive gun ownership rights. He is the only president to ever appear at NRA events.

Gun control legislation at the federal level, albeit modest, was signed into law for the first time in more than two decades by President Joe Biden in 2022 after high-profile shooting incidents in Texas and Buffalo, N.Y.

But Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung, in a post on X, drew a contrast between the candidate visiting Diller’s family and Biden, who Chung said was attending a fundraiser Thursday night with “elitist, out-of-touch celebrity benefactors.”

A woman is shown in contemplation looking at a monument.
U.S. Vice-President Kamala Harris is shown on March 23 at a memorial for victims of the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Harris also met with families of the victims and school officials. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

As president, Biden visited NYPD headquarters and spoke to officers after two line-of-duty deaths in close succession in 2022. While vice-president, Biden delivered a eulogy at a 2014 service for NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, who were gunned down in their patrol car.

“Our hearts go out, obviously, to the officer’s family and the broader NYPD family, who have tragically lost one of their own,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday of Diller’s death.

Violent crime levelling off after pandemic spike

Trump has deplored crime in cities led by Democratic politicians.

“On Joe Biden’s watch, violent crime has skyrocketed in virtually every American city,” his campaign said in a statement earlier this month.

Statistics tell a more complicated story.

The U.S., already outlier among Western countries with higher rates of homicides, saw such incidents increase nationally during the pandemic, which overlapped the Trump and Biden presidencies. However, violent crime went up not only in Democratic urban strongholds, but also in some cities led by Republican politicians, while rural areas also experienced an uptick.

New statistics released recently from the FBI and the nonpartisan Council on Criminal Justice indicate that violent crime declined in 2023 from the previous year

New York City, meanwhile, experienced 386 homicides last year, a 12 per cent decrease from 2022 that was generally in line with the national situation. The city hasn’t experienced more than 500 homicides since 2011, a total that itself was far below the levels seen during Republican mayor Rudy Giuliani’s time in office. The city experienced more than 1,500 homicides in Giuliani’s first year in office in 1994 and 649 when he left seven years later.

Several children in the same coloured tshirts hold signs and walk during a demonstration.
Students from Launch Charter School march as they wear orange for National Gun Violence Awareness Day on June 02, 2023, in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y. Homicide rates in New York City in 2023 fell from the previous year’s total. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images )

The homicide drop that began in the 1990s from all-time highs in the 1970s and 1980s, was also documented in many other American cities regardless of the political affiliation of municipal leaders.

Criminologists have pointed to a number of factors for the drop: stiffer penalties for gun violence and increased incarceration rates; a bolstered police presence in at-risk communities; electronic surveillance trends; and a variety of societal trends that have seen young males spend more time indoors than previous generations.

Law enforcement deaths, per FBI statistics, also appear to have increased during the early pandemic months, though have dipped since. 

‘Inflammatory’ remarks

Trump has embraced those imprisoned for their roles on the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, when a mob of his angry supporters overran police lines and some Capitol and local police officers were assaulted. Trump has called those jailed “hostages” and hinted at pardons for at least some of them.

In the business records case against Trump, Judge Juan Merchan this week cited the former president’s history of “threatening, inflammatory, denigrating” remarks about people involved in his legal cases in issuing a gag order that bars him from speaking about about attorneys, court staff or the family members of prosecutors or lawyers involved in his case. 

Trump comments and social media posts in the recent past have been followed by threats of violence directed at law enforcement officials and prosecutors, and even volunteer campaign workers. As well, prosecutors in the Trump cases have needed extra security as a result of threats.

A violation of Merchan’s order could result in Trump being held in contempt of court, fined or even jailed.

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