Trump signs order on police reform after weeks of protests about racial injustice

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump, facing criticism that his policies and inflammatory rhetoric have aggravated a racial divide in the United States, signed an order on Tuesday that he said would reform police practices even as he pressed for “law and order” nationwide.

After weeks of protests against racism and police brutality prompted by the death of George Floyd, a black man killed on May 25 in police custody in Minneapolis, Trump sought to offer a policy response to rising concerns about racial injustice going into the Nov. 3 election, in which he is seeking a second term.

Trump, a Republican, opened his remarks by expressing sympathy to the families of victims of police violence, pledging to fight for justice and promising them their loved ones will not have died in vain. But he quickly pivoted to a defense of law enforcement officers and a threat of penalties to looters.

“Americans want law and order, they demand law and order,” Trump said at a ceremony at the White House, reiterating a call that has angered protesters who have poured onto streets from New York to Los Angeles.

“Americans know the truth: Without police there is chaos, without law there is anarchy, and without safety there is catastrophe,” he said.

In his public comments and on Twitter, Trump has called for crackdowns on protesters and emphasized a forceful and militarized response to the social unrest sparked by the death of Floyd and others. Despite issuing a call for unity, he used his Rose Garden address on Tuesday to criticize former President Barack Obama, the first black U.S. president, for his record on police reforms. Opinion polls show widespread concerns among Americans about police brutality.

Tuesday’s order encourages police departments to employ the latest standards for use of force, improve information sharing so that officers with poor records are not hired without their backgrounds being known, and add social workers to law enforcement responses to non-violent cases involving drug addiction and homelessness, officials said.

Trump’s proposal would steer federal money toward police departments that get certification by outside bodies and would ban chokeholds unless an officer’s life was in danger. It also would encourage them to use less-lethal weapons such as stun guns.

Civil-rights groups and top Democrats, including former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said the order was insufficient.

Trump reiterated that he opposes calls to “defund the police” by reimagining or dismantling police departments. Leading Democrats, including Biden, have not embraced such calls, but Republicans have jumped on the issue.

The Democratic-led House of Representatives is expected to vote later this month on sweeping legislation put forward by the Congressional Black Caucus to rein in police misconduct.

Senate Republicans are expected to unveil their own legislation on Wednesday that concentrates more on data collection than on policy changes in areas involving lethal force. Trump urged Congress to act.

Democrats want to allow victims of misconduct and their families to sue police. Republicans are pushing to reduce job protections for members of law enforcement unions.

Trump’s decision to ban chokeholds appears similar to the ban included in the Democratic legislation.

Republican lawmakers are divided on that issue.

Inimai Chettiar of the Justice Action Network said the use of grant money to influence police department policies could be an effective way to get results, but she noted that Trump’s Justice Department has resisted other reform efforts.

“I have a lot of skepticism in terms of how rigorously this is going to be implemented,” she said. Other civil-rights groups said Trump’s order did not go far enough.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, David Morgan and Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Andy Sullivan, Sonya Hepinstall, Cynthia Osterman and Jonathan Oatis)

Family of Rayshard Brooks demands justice after Atlanta police fatally shoot him in the back

(Reuters) – The family of Rayshard Brooks, a black man whose death reignited protests in Atlanta over the weekend, on Monday said they were “heartbroken” and “tired” of the racial injustice that they said led to Brooks’ death at the hands of Atlanta police.

An autopsy conducted on Sunday showed that Brooks, 27, died from blood loss and organ injuries caused by two gunshot wounds to his back, the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s office said in a statement, ruling his death a homicide.

“We’re tired and we are frustrated. Most importantly we’re heartbroken, so we need justice for Rayshard Brooks,” his cousin, Tiara Brooks, said at a news conference.

“The trust that we have in the police force is broken. The only way to heal some of these wounds is through a conviction and a drastic change in the police department,” she added.

Brooks’ fatal encounter with the police came after police responded to a call that he had fallen asleep in his car in a Wendy’s restaurant drive-through lane.

Caught on video, the encounter seemed friendly at first but when an officer moved to arrest him, Brooks struggled with him and another officer at the scene before breaking away across the parking lot with what appears to be a police Taser in his hand.

A video from the restaurant’s cameras shows Brooks turning as he runs and possibly aiming the Taser at the pursuing officers, both white, before one of them fires his gun and Brooks falls.

Prosecutors will decide by midweek whether to bring charges, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said on Sunday.

Several members of Rayshard Brooks’ family attended the news conference in tears, and spoke of him as a warm family man who loved to take his daughter skating. One man left the room during the briefing in hysterics, shouting, “Somebody took my cousin!”

Atlanta’s police chief, Erika Shields, resigned over the shooting. The officer suspected of killing Brooks was fired, and the other officer involved in the incident was put on administrative leave.

Brooks’ death reignited protests in Atlanta after days of worldwide demonstrations against racism and police brutality prompted by the death of George Floyd, an African American, when a Minneapolis policeman knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes on May 25.

Brooks’ widow, Tomika Miller, implored the public to protest peacefully in her husband’s name.

“We want to keep his name positive,” she said.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Gabriella Borter and Nathan Layne; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Jonathan Oatis)

Democratic lawmakers unveil sweeping bill on race, police in wake of Floyd death

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats, led by a group of black lawmakers, unveiled sweeping legislation on Monday to combat police violence and racial injustice, two weeks after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody led to widespread protests.

The bill would allow victims of misconduct and their families to seek financial damages against police by limiting the legal doctrine known as qualified immunity. It would also make lynching a federal hate crime.

Democrats hope to bring the legislation to the floor of the House of Representatives before the end of June. But its reception in the Republican-controlled Senate is unclear, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell noncommittal on the need for legislation.

(Reporting by David Morgan, additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Scott Malone and Grant McCool)

Facebook, Snapchat join chorus of companies condemning George Floyd death, racism

(Reuters) – Facebook Inc and Snap Inc became the latest U.S. companies condemning racial inequality in the United States as violent protests flared up across major cities over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died while in police custody in Minneapolis last week.

The two tech companies stood with Intel Corp, Netflix Inc and Nike Inc in taking a public stance against Floyd’s death – voicing concerns about discrimination against African-Americans.

“We stand with the Black community – and all those working towards justice in honor of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and far too many others whose names will not be forgotten,” Facebook’s Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post late Sunday.

He said the social network will commit $10 million to organizations that are working on racial justice.

The arrest of Floyd, 46, was captured by an onlooker’s cell phone video that went viral and showed a police officer restraining him while pressing his knee on Floyd’s neck as he moaned: “Please, I can’t breathe.”

His death caused yet another round of outrage across the nation on the treatment of African-Americans by police officers, polarizing the country politically and racially as states begin to ease lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I am heartbroken and enraged by the treatment of black people and people of color in America,” Snapchat Chief Executive Officer Evan Spiegel said in an internal memo.

“We must begin a process to ensure that America’s black community is heard throughout the country.”

On Friday, Nike flipped its iconic slogan to raise awareness about racism.

“For Once, Don’t Do It. Don’t pretend there’s not a problem in America. Don’t turn your back on racism,” the company said in a video that has over six million views and was shared by celebrities and rival Adidas AG.

(Reporting by Neha Malara in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Uday Sampath; Editing by Sweta Singh, Bernard Orr)