Donald J. Trump heads into the fall presidential campaign with a dark vision of a country threatened by rising crime and terrorism — and a promise that “safety will be restored” if he enters the White House.
But even as he confounded many observers who question the accuracy of his apocalyptic warnings of “chaos in our communities,” he sidestepped his own party’s support for criminal justice crime reforms.
The closest he got to any concrete proposal was a promise that he’d “work with and appoint the best prosecutors and law enforcement officials in the country.”
Ignoring the work of governors who arrived at this year’s convention with a message of positive state-led reforms aimed at reducing mass incarceration and recidivism, Trump also failed to acknowledge a decade of bipartisan criminal justice efforts at the federal level.
Neither the Republican Party platform resolution supporting criminal justice reform, nor the platform’s call on congress to draw lessons from the states in modifying the approach to sentencing made it into his speech. He was also silent on conservative reform issues such over-criminalization, federal penal code revision, and mens rea.
Instead, Trump used his 75-minute speech to depict a carousel of domestic threats — terrorism, violent crime, gangs, foreign drug cartels– and ultimately laid them at the feet of illegal immigrants with criminal records, who were “tonight roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens.”
Peace will be restored, he promised, “by ending catch-and-release on the border,” and “enforcing the laws of this country.”
By some counts, “law and order” was repeated more than a dozen times in his speech, as he appeared to blame the Obama administration for the spike in homicides in major urban cities like Chicago this year.
The threat to America, he said, is “ more dangerous than I have ever seen or anyone in this room has ever watched or seen,”– an assertion that has already put an army of fact-checkers to work.
Criminologists continue to debate whether the increase in urban crime represents a significant trend — pointing out that overall crime rates continue to be much lower than the ‘lawless’ era of the 1980s and 1990s evoked by Trump.
Trump relied not only on a selective use of facts and figures to drive his fearsome narrative but repeatedly invoked the images of fallen police officers and victims of violence “spilling across the border.”
In keeping with the Republican National Committee’s undisguised hostility toward the Black Lives Matter movement, there was no reference to violence at the hands of law enforcement.
By the time delegates to the RNC were streaming out of the hall, the climate was already set for the kind of prolonged and bitter political debate over crime that the country has not seen for over 20 years.
Victoria Mckenzie is a New York-based writer for The Crime Report. She welcomes comments from readers.