Jun 1, 2022

Biden's executive order on police.

Biden's executive order on police.

The order didn't get a lot of attention last week.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 13 minutes.

Biden's policing executive order. Plus, a question about why the media still focusing on Trump.

In Denver, a protest against police violence. Image: geoffalexander4
In Denver, a protest against police violence. Image: geoffalexander4

An interview.

Before Memorial Day, I was interviewed by Daniel Levitt at "Inside the Newsroom" on the process of building Tangle. If you're interested in how we came to be, it's worth a read. And if you're a person in the media space, I highly recommend Daniel's newsletter, which is independent and also helps journalists find work (they have the most comprehensive jobs board on the market).


Quick hits.

  1. Israel and the United Arab Emirates signed a free trade agreement yesterday, a first-of-its kind deal between Israel and an Arab nation after the countries established trade relations in 2020 under the Abraham Accords. (The deal)
  2. The Supreme Court temporarily blocked a new social media law that prohibits social media platforms from removing content based on a user's political viewpoint. (The ruling)
  3. A federal jury acquitted Michael Sussmann of lying to the FBI about his work with the Clinton campaign in 2016. The charge stemmed from John Durham's investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia probe. (The acquittal)
  4. Shanghai ended its two-month lockdown, though citizens still have to present a negative Covid-19 test to enter certain public spaces. (The lifting)
  5. Supreme Court clerks were asked to turn over cell phone records in a probe of the leaked draft opinion of Dobbs v. Jackson. (The request)

Our 'Quick Hits' section is created in partnership with Ground News, a website and app that rates the bias of news coverage and news outlets.


Today's topic.

Biden's executive order. Last Wednesday, President Biden signed an executive order on policing. The order came on the two-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd and after Congress failed to pass bipartisan legislation to address policing. It was overshadowed by news of the shooting in Uvalde, so we thought it'd be important to revisit now.

Among other things, the executive order:

  • Creates a national registry of officers who are fired for misconduct and calls for certain data on disciplinary actions to be made public
  • Directs all federal agencies to revise certain use of force policies
  • Bans the use of chokeholds and carotid restraints unless deadly force is authorized
  • Requires officers to intervene and render medical aid if another officer uses excessive force
  • Restricts the use of "no knock" entries to a very limited set of circumstances
  • Creates grants to encourage state and local police to restrict the use of chokeholds and neck restraints
  • Requires all federal law enforcement to wear and turn on body cameras during arrests
  • Restricts the transfer and purchase of military equipment to local police departments
  • Directs the National Academy of Sciences to study the impact of face-recognition technology and predictive policing algorithms
  • Requires the DOJ and HHS to publish best practices for officer wellness
  • Calls for the development of a new, evidence-based anti-bias training
  • Requires full implementation of the First Step Act passed under Donald Trump

You can read the White House fact sheet here.

The order will cover about 100,000 federal law enforcement officials, including those in the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the U.S. Marshals Service; and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The most immediate impact on state and local departments will be the restriction of military equipment, but the White House hopes that grants and other incentives will push the 700,000 state and local police officers to follow the new federal rules.

Below, we'll take a look at some reactions from the left and right, then my take.You can find our previous coverage of police reform here, here and here.


What the left is saying.

  • The left is happy the order happened, though they acknowledge it is limited in scope.
  • Some say Biden can't fix policing on his own, and it has to happen bottom up.
  • Others criticize the order for being too little, too late.

The Washington Post editorial board said there is "only so much" Biden can do.

"Even as he signed the order, Mr. Biden admitted it was insufficient," the board wrote. "It directly affects only 100,000 federal law enforcement officers. Most policing occurs on the state and local level; only Congress or state and local leaders can overhaul law enforcement on a larger scale. The president’s action is an accomplishment, but it is just as much a reflection of how much more the nation must do. This is not to say that Mr. Biden’s order is useless. It restores Obama administration restrictions on the transfer of military equipment to police departments, with exceptions for gear needed for 'disaster-related emergencies; active shooter scenarios; hostage or search and rescue operations; and anti-terrorism efforts.' It mandates body cameras for all federal officers, restricts chokeholds and curtails no-knock warrants. It sets narrow limits on when force is permitted and requires officers to intervene to stop excessive force and to render medical aid.

"Part of the point is to set high standards that local police departments might adopt voluntarily," the board said. "But the order also envisions the Justice Department providing more oversight of local police through 'pattern or practice' investigations, which the Trump administration had put on ice. And it requires more information to be reported on police misconduct and use of force, including the creation of a new database to which all federal agencies must contribute. Simply getting reliable numbers on policing in the United States has long been a challenge, in part because local departments have failed to report to an FBI use of force database. The order directs federal authorities to help local agencies report their numbers."

In NBC News, Matthew Guariglia said Biden's order "can't fix policing."

"A few major problems would prevent these changes from having any real impact on the lives of people in the U.S. who live in fear of police violence," Guariglia wrote. "First, the executive order applies mainly to the more than 100,000 federal law enforcement officers. This is not insignificant, especially as federal law enforcement officers, like those of the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, have had increased their presence on the streets and at protests — but it’s still a far cry from reforms that would apply to the local, county and state police that most people deal with daily.

"Policing cannot be simply reformed by policy," he added. "Unfortunately, policy on the books often means very little on the ground. As has been argued many times by activists and academics, one of the key ways to lessen the harm that policing has on communities is simply to limit the number of daily interactions people have with police. You do that by limiting the number of police, taking away responsibilities from departments, or both, and many more options. To that end, the executive order shows a glimmer of hope in a commitment to identify federal resources for 'alternative responder models.' Hopefully, this means more nonpolicing support for response teams popping up around the country, teams that send unarmed professionals to respond to calls pertaining to unhoused people or people in the midst of a mental health crisis — rather than armed officers who may escalate the situation."

In The Black Wall Street Times, Ezekiel J. Walker said the order was "two years too late."

"The family of Floyd, who died after he was pinned to the ground by a Minneapolis police officer, was at the White House for the signing. The families of other Black people killed by police in recent years — Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Amir Locke and Atatiana Jefferson — also attended, a senior administration official said. Much like politicians this week who espouse fake sentiments over yet another school shooting, President Biden performatively waits until the 2nd anniversary of George Floyd’s murder to introduce these essential measures," Walker wrote.

"While there was no expectation for Pres. Trump to sign any such measure in 2020 because of his inherent racism, Biden campaigned heavily on police reform," Walker added. "Yet, what was stopping the Biden Administration from making this a Day 1 priority? Have Black people stopped being murdered by police? No, then why are we constantly fed crumbs and told to behave like we’re full? Perhaps next year, they’ll get around to addressing qualified immunity though it’s highly doubtful. However, what is more predictable is that with the slow pace of change coming from the White House, incremental measures such as this executive order will not address the actual reason George Floyd was murdered. Until the systemic racism is rooted out of the historically radicalized police departments of America, their pressed knee on our necks will continue to squeeze the breath out of us."


What the right is saying.

  • The right says the order is mostly redundant and vilifies police.
  • Some criticize it for reinforcing false narratives about police being racist.
  • Others point out that some local departments are ahead of Biden already.

In City Journal, Dorothy Moses Schulz said Biden is "playing catch-up" on police reform.

"The order illustrates the tightrope the president finds himself walking," Schulz said. "Though the White House press release touts it as an historic move to build public trust and strengthen public safety, it promises more than it delivers. The word 'federal' appears in the text of the order 19 times, while 'state and local' show up only twice. Many provisions will make only a small impact outside the federal policing community. This is because presidents have little direct authority over the nation’s 18,000 nonfederal law enforcement agencies. According to Larry Cosme, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA), the order will mostly affect the approximately 100,000 federal officers—one-seventh of the roughly 700,000 police officers in the United States.

"Two major police organizations—the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Fraternal Order of Police—endorsed it," she wrote. "The IACP emailed its 31,000 members (including me) a policy fact sheet reinforcing the point that the order applies 'almost exclusively to federal law enforcement,' but also citing its 'guidelines and best practices for state, local, tribal, and territorial law enforcement,' including recruiting and retaining officers; focusing on officer wellness, including suicide prevention; and developing accreditation standards. None of these is a new area for reform. Law enforcement’s warm response could owe to the fact that, since Floyd’s death, state and local laws have already instituted most of the executive order’s guidelines, often more strictly than the order itself."

In Fox News, Liz Peek said Biden's lies about crime and race are hurting America.

"Just recently, President Biden signed a mostly toothless executive order designed to 'reform' police in our country, mainly by tying them up in red tape," Peek wrote. "His EO applies only to some 100,000 federal law enforcement officials in the U.S.; he hopes the 700,000 local cops who work to keep our cities and towns safe will adopt the 'best practices' laid out by the White House. The president’s executive order was signed on the two-year anniversary of George Floyd’s murder in an attempt to revive the anger and activism inspired by that event. Because, as Biden himself noted, 'there’s a concern that the reckoning on race inspired two years ago is beginning to fade.'

"Biden is right. Polling shows crime is more important than race for American voters today, and especially for Black voters; support for the defund-the-police movement and bail reform measures that put hardened criminals back on the streets is waning," Peek said. "Biden also argues that it is 'systemic racism' perpetrated by white people that has held back Black people in our country. This damaging narrative encourages more hate and violence from those who perceive themselves to be victims as it denies them hope. It also prevents any investigation or amelioration of other reasons that Black achievement lags that of Hispanics and whites. Like perhaps our corrupt public education system, which fails so many minority children."

In Heritage, Zack Smith said the executive order is a political statement designed to satisfy the left-wing base of his party.

"If there’s any doubt about its political purpose, look at what Biden himself tweeted shortly before signing the order. He said, 'I’ve called on Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, but Senate Republicans have stood in the way of progress.' He went on to say that’s why 'I’m taking action … ' Never mind that the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act was a deeply flawed piece of legislation. Never mind that Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., put forward his own policing reform bill, which Democrats blocked. And never mind that Biden’s order contains many of the same problematic provisions that an earlier leaked draft contained, which caused an outcry from law enforcement.

"The root of many of the problems with this executive order stems from the Biden administration’s view that our nation’s criminal justice system is systemically racist. It’s not," Smith wrote. "As my colleagues John Malcolm and Cully Stimson have previously pointed out, these 'overbroad, inflammatory' claims 'peddled' by elites and academics are false... 'Current statistics indicate that 13.3% of police officers in this country are African Americans, a slightly higher percentage than the percentage of African Americans in the general population. Many major police departments are now headed up by African American chiefs of police. … Of the roughly 375 million police-civilian encounters every year in this country … a miniscule fraction result in a civilian being killed, and most of those involve legitimate uses of appropriate force. … In 2019, for instance, police officers fatally shot 1,003 people, 235 (23% of the total) of whom were African Americans—only 14 of which, it turns out, were unarmed.'"


My take.

There are plenty of political apples to pick here, but I'd like to focus on the executive order itself. So I'll tell you what I like, what I don't, and what I'm mostly ambivalent about.

First, I've written a lot about police reform. My position has always been pretty left (or Libertarian, depending on your political definitions). I don't think all cops are bad or racist or inherently violent — I have friends whom I love that serve as police officers. These issues are complicated. But for a long time my primary concern has been raising the level of police accountability and reducing the number of unnecessary police-citizen interactions. To that end, my stated desires have mostly been about bringing an end to qualified immunity (you can read my writing on that here or here), improving police training (I interviewed a former cop about that here) and narrowing the focus of police to crime, rather than mental health crises or cats in trees or domestic disputes.

This order doesn't really touch on any of those things. Which, in some sense, may be an indictment on the quality of the order. But in another sense, it is expected: This is an executive order from a president, and along with executive orders having limited power in a vacuum, it's also out of Biden's jurisdiction — literally — as most police reforms need to happen on the state and local levels.

What I like about the order is its focus on building a misconduct database, further implementing the First Step Act, and restricting no-knock warrants. The data collection practices the order lays out won't be hugely impactful right away, but it's a nice additional layer on top of what exists. About 3% of all police — or roughly 21,000 — are so-called “Wandering Cops,” who move from department to department even after being fired for disciplinary reasons. States are currently improving their definitions of when to flag officers for decertification (state certification allows a cop to get hired at another station even after being justifiably terminated) and improving how that data is shared. This should exist at the federal level too, and the more data we have, the better.

A callout to the First Step Act is also great. That was the bipartisan criminal justice reform bill passed by Congress and signed by Trump, which aimed to reduce recidivism rates, decrease the prison population and reform federal prisons. Key parts of the law, like reducing harsh sentencing, have been working as promised. Others — like evidence-based recidivism reduction — are not, mostly due to staffing issues and lack of transparency. Biden doubling down on his predecessor’s work is both representative of the bipartisan action he ran on and good policy. It's a solid piece of legislation, and committing to implementing it fully is smart.

The no-knock warrant restriction (it's not an all out ban, though it should eliminate them nearly all of the time) is also welcome news. I wrote about the absurdity of no-knock warrants when Breonna Taylor was killed. Given that federal agencies are also keen on using them, this should have an immediate impact. Hopefully, state and local departments will follow suit. Anyone who believes police should not be able to kick down your door and barge in with guns out should be happy.

What I don't like is the anti-bias training. We have a good deal of evidence that most of the anti-bias training we’ve tried is ineffective — or worse, a source of backlash. The general thrust of the evidence we have is that bias training actually doesn’t work or makes officers more biased or antagonistic toward the minorities they are supposed to be unlearning their biases about. I'm not sure this avenue is worth pursuing much longer.

The military equipment order is good, but it is also overdue. Biden could have done this on day one, and it's unclear why he didn't. Obama limited the type of equipment that could be transferred to police in 2015. Trump (wrongly) reversed that order. Biden has had two years to undo Trump's reversal. Doing it now as part of this order seems overtly political, like the goal is to hype it up around the anniversary of George Floyd’s death. So while I'm glad it's done, I'm left wondering why it didn't happen much sooner.

The rest of the order is mostly redundant, or I just don't have strong feelings about it. On the whole, Biden managed to please some activists with a little movement, had the executive order endorsed by two police groups, gave a hat tip to former President Trump's legislation and brought some attention back to the important issue of policing in America. I think it's a net positive, even if it isn't moving the needle much for local departments who need it most.

Have thoughts about "my take?" You can reply to this email and write in or leave a comment if you're a subscriber.


Your questions, answered.

Q: Why do you think the left of center media is so focused on Trump? The right of center media does not mention him nearly so often. To me, it is as if the left side (Democrats) have already decided the 2024 election mantra is an anti-Trump barrage. I am slightly right of center and do not want him to run again.

— Larry, Greenville, South Carolina

Tangle: I think it is for a few reasons. 1) Trump is good for ratings. Whether people hate him or love him, they tune in. 2) I think Democrats want the 2024 election to be about Trump again, because they believe he is even more beatable now. Whether Trump is running or not, the more he defines the Republican party, the more Democrats think the center will break with them. It’s the same reason Fox News and others on the right still obsessively report on Hillary Clinton, even though she hasn’t held an actual government job in nine years or run for one since 2016. 3) I think Trump's grip on the party truly is growing stronger, so it's fair for Democrats and left-leaning media to pay attention to him.

That being said, I'll push back on your assumption in one sense: While it's definitely true that left-of-center media loves talking about Trump, conservative media does, too. Fox News still centers its coverage around Trump. The Wall Street Journal editorial pages are filled with Trump content. And he's all over further right news outlets like Newsmax, OAN, etc. Just last night, a Newsmax anchor interviewed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and asked him if Russia would have invaded when Trump was president (Zelensky declined to answer).

Weirdly enough, I think both sides actually believe Trump benefits them. Which is why you see media outlets that lean one way or another perfectly willing to center their coverage around him.

Want to ask a question? You can reply to this email and write in (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.


A story that matters.

Starting last December, about 1,000 respondents each month were asked about the last time they shared a meal with someone from a different racial, ethnic or political group. Just 50% of Americans say they have had a meal with someone of a different race, ethnicity or political party in the last month, according to the survey. And only 38% of Americans say they have something in common with someone from a different race, ethnicity or political party. The survey, being run by Axios and Ipsos, is a vivid portrait of a divided country. You can read more about it here.


Numbers.

  • 1,055. The number of people police shot and killed in 2021, according to a Washington Post database.
  • 15%. The percentage of those people who were unarmed.
  • 20%. The percentage of those shootings captured on body cameras.
  • 18,000. The number of nonfederal law enforcement agencies in the United States.
  • 81. The number of civilians killed in no-knock raids between 2010 and 2016.
  • 13. The number of law enforcement officers killed in no-knock raids between 2010 and 2016.

Have a nice day.

For Leah Menzies, one of the toughest parts about her new relationship was knowing that her boyfriend would never meet her mom. Menzies’ mom died when she was seven, and now — at the age of 18 — she was meeting her boyfriend's family and understandably feeling some heartache. But then something incredible happened: Her boyfriend, Thomas McLeodd, was going through an old family photo album when he saw a photo of himself with Menzies' mom, who had been his preschool teacher. Menzies said she burst into tears when McLeodd showed her the photo. “It’s incredible that she knew him," Menzies said. "What gets me is that she was standing with my future boyfriend and she had no idea.” TODAY has the story.


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