“You’ve got to ask yourself a question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?”
Facebook isn’t all kittens and grandkids. Everyone has friends who are Donald Trump fans. That’s statistically inevitable. Forty percent of the country voted for the guy. They had their reasons. Some wanted to put Hillary in jail. Some wanted Mexicans and Muslims and gays to just go away. Some wanted Obamacare to just go away – people should take care of themselves – hard working taxpayers shouldn’t take care of them. Some were big on small government – the “state” shouldn’t take care of every damned thing. Some saw the end of all abortions, for whatever reason. Some were just tired of Obama and all the smug urban hipsters – and “climate change” was a smug hoax too. And many hoped the cops would finally take care of the punks – mostly black punks. They wouldn’t feel lucky anymore.
Those are the Facebook folks who keep posting that long clip from Dirty Harry – where Inspector “Dirty” Harry Callahan asks the “punk” that question. The black punk isn’t lucky in Dirty Harry (1971) – or maybe he is. Clint Eastwood, as Dirty Harry, doesn’t blow his head off. He pulls the trigger of his trademark revolver, that Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum – and the last chamber is empty. The punk lucks out. Eastwood walks off with a wry smile on his face. It’s pure white-male dominance.
This was San Francisco before Nancy Pelosi. In 1973 it was Magnum Force – a group of renegade traffic cops are executing criminals who have somehow avoided conviction in court. Dirty Harry takes care of those renegade cops – “a man’s got to know his limitations” – and in 1976 it was The Enforcer – where the People’s Revolutionary Strike Force is the problem. Dirty Harry takes care of the political punks. Then it was Sudden Impact in 1983 – “Go ahead, make my day.” Finally it was The Dead Pool in 1988 – for a final combined total of forty-three dead punks in the five movies. And then Eastwood retired the character. He said that his age – fifty-eight at the time – would make Harry a parody.
Donald Trump is seventy. He didn’t get the memo. Those Facebook friends didn’t get the memo. Donald Trump isn’t Dirty Harry. Or maybe he is. Heather Parton has examined that:
Trump’s view of race in America is very simple: If the police could take the gloves off, this would fix whatever problems exist. He is particularly adamant about applying the death penalty. He famously took out a full-page ad in New York newspapers after the arrests of the young men known as the Central Park Five (four being black and one Latino) in the rape and beating of a white jogger in 1989. The five men spent years in prison before being exonerated by DNA evidence and the confession of another man, a career criminal with a long prison record. Trump has said that he still believes they are guilty.
The big, bold title of the ad was “BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY, BRING BACK OUR POLICE!” Even then, Trump wanted to make America great again by returning to the days of his youth when the cops could crack some heads.
She also cites this from the ad:
When I was young, I sat in a diner with my father and witnessed two young bullies cursing and threatening a very frightened waitress. Two cops rushed in, lifted up the thugs and threw them out the door, warning them never to cause trouble again. I miss the feeling of security New York’s finest once gave to the citizens of this City. Let our politicians give back our police department’s power to keep us safe. Unshackle them from the constant chant of “police brutality” which every petty criminal hurls immediately at an officer who has just risked his or her life to save another’s. We must cease our continuous pandering to the criminal population of this City. Give New York back to the citizens who have earned the right to be New Yorkers.
That’s a generic scene from the five Dirty Harry movies of course, but Parton says that’s also pure Trump:
Trump has a few bedrock beliefs that he has held for decades: The world is laughing at America, Asian nations are making fools of the U.S. on trade, we must bring back the death penalty and law enforcement must be given more power. These represent the fundamental philosophy that propelled him to the presidency.
Throughout the campaign Trump reiterated his strong pro-police stance. But it wasn’t until July’s mass shooting of police officers in Dallas that he came out roaring out with his declaration – “The attack on our Dallas police is an attack on our country. It’s time for our hostility against our police and against all members of law enforcement to end and end immediately right now. I am the law and order candidate.”
That’s when Trump became Dirty Harry:
He used the line repeatedly from then on, including during his angry acceptance speech at the Republican convention. Eventually he was endorsed by the National Fraternal Order of Police, the unions representing Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers and numerous local police organizations throughout the country. Trump was celebrated by cops everywhere he went, and there are many pictures to prove it. He likes them and they like him.
After the election, the Fraternal Order of Police issued a wish list for the first 100 days. It includes reinstituting racial profiling, deporting Dreamers (undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children) and ending sanctuary-city programs.
This worried Parton at the time:
Trump’s loyalty and reverence for the police and his racist 1970s stereotypes of African-American communities make for a dangerous brew, particularly considering a recent Pew Research center report about attitudes in law enforcement. This research painted a highly disturbing portrait of police officers who increasingly see themselves as under siege and who long for more power and authority – with important differences in attitudes between white and black police officers, particularly regarding the protests against police shootings. That points to a potentially volatile situation.
That was January, and this was February:
A group of nearly 200 prominent veterans of law enforcement rebuked President Donald Trump’s approach to public safety on Monday, arguing Trump’s “law and order” philosophy will result in more dangerous communities and a waste of federal resources.
The group, Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Incarceration, slammed Trump’s hardline stance on crime, which it said emphasized arrests and incarceration while ignoring efforts to maintain good community relations, keep offenders out of jail, and treat the mentally ill.
“Decades of experience have convinced us of a sobering reality,” group co-chairmen Ronal Serpas and David Brown – former police chiefs in Nashville, New Orleans, and Dallas – wrote in a 28-page agenda addressed to the Trump administration. “Today’s crime policies – which too often rely only on jail and prison – are simply ineffective in preserving public safety.”
These were not the cops on the street. They were their bosses who had to clean up the mess every Dirty Harry left behind and keep seeing the crime rates rising because of each successive mess:
On Monday, the group published open letters requesting meetings with Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan to discuss how to keep the country safe. Other members of the law enforcement group include current and former police commissioners and chiefs from several major cities, including William Bratton, the former police commissioner in New York and Boston and chief in Los Angeles, as well as officials from Philadelphia, Baltimore, Indianapolis, Charlotte, and Birmingham.
The group called on Trump to back policies that would specifically target violent crime, an apparent dig at an executive orders the president signed last week, which the group said only considers crime in general.
“Failing to direct these resources toward our most immediate and dangerous threats risks wasting taxpayer dollars,” the officials wrote.
They had a better idea:
The group recommended Trump invest in community policing, wherein police forces collaborate with their communities. The practice reduces crime and diminishes local tensions between police and civilians, the officers wrote.
They were talking to the wrong guy, because this week it was this:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ordered a sweeping review of federal agreements with dozens of law enforcement agencies, an examination that reflects President Trump’s emphasis on law and order and could lead to a retreat on consent decrees with troubled police departments nationwide.
In a memorandum dated March 31 and made public Monday, the attorney general directed his staff to look at whether law enforcement programs adhere to principles put forth by the Trump administration, including one declaring that “the individual misdeeds of bad actors should not impugn” the work police officers perform “in keeping American communities safe.”
Dirty Harry was a good guy, really, so there was this:
As part of its shift in emphasis, the Justice Department went to court on Monday to seek a 90-day delay in a consent decree to overhaul Baltimore’s embattled Police Department. That request came just days before a hearing, scheduled for Thursday in the United States District Court in Baltimore, to solicit public comment on the agreement, which was reached in principle by the city and the Justice Department in the waning days of the Obama administration.
Mayor Catherine E. Pugh said late Monday that the city would “strongly oppose any delay in moving forward.” Supporters of police reform called on Judge James K. Bredar, who is overseeing the negotiations between Baltimore and the Justice Department, to deny the request, arguing that Mr. Sessions was interfering with the will of the city.
Like Clint Eastwood, the folks in Baltimore had realized that Harry has become a parody:
In Baltimore, a majority-black city with a history of tensions between African-Americans and the police, the consent decree grew out of a federal review that followed the unrest in 2015 over the death of a 25-year-old black man, Freddie Gray, in police custody.
The review culminated in August, when the Justice Department issued a blistering report that found that the Baltimore police had engaged in a “pattern and practice” of discrimination that systematically violated the civil rights of black residents. In January, days before Mr. Obama left office, Mayor Pugh and the Justice Department signed a broad blueprint for an overhaul.
“You’ve got to ask yourself a question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?” The Baltimore cops had asked that once too often:
Baltimore is one of nearly two dozen cities – including Ferguson, Mo.; Cleveland; and Seattle – that were the subject of aggressive efforts by the Obama administration to improve relations between the police and the communities they serve. That effort produced so-called consent decrees with 14 departments.
The broad review announced Monday could threaten some of those decrees if the Justice Department seeks to change its past stance about systematic police abuses in the affected agencies.
Expect that. Trump is our new Dirty Harry. He was always Dirty Harry – or a wannabe Dirty Harry. Actually, he turned into a parody of the guy, but he’s in charge now, directing his attorney general:
Beyond Baltimore, the most closely watched decision will come in Chicago, where the Obama administration, in its final days, issued a report that found failures in the Police Department after a series of police shootings of minorities. Negotiations have begun for a possible monitoring agreement, but Mr. Sessions has indicated he thinks the report was shoddy, casting doubt on the prospect of a deal.
In a joint statement on Monday night, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Superintendent Eddie Johnson of the Chicago police said Mr. Sessions’ announcement would not alter their own plans, outlined several weeks ago, for police reform in Chicago. “We can only speak for our intentions, we can’t speak for the federal government’s,” they said.
These two know a pathetic parody when they see one and will disregard the movie fantasies of Trump and Sessions, but the lines have been drawn:
In its court filings on Monday, the Justice Department noted that the Trump administration had “announced several new initiatives and policies that prioritize combating and preventing violent crime” in response to spikes in violence in cities across the country, including Baltimore.
Mr. Sessions has expressed deep skepticism about the value of consent decrees like the one planned for Baltimore, saying they vilify the police, and he has indicated that he wants to scale them back.
Keven Drum sums up the situation:
These are shaping up to be golden years for police departments, who are getting a very clear message: Paint the town red, boys. No need to worry anymore about the feds ginning up any ridiculous “civil rights” concerns just because you harass lots of black people or beat up prisoners in your jails. Just catch us some bad dudes, okay?
There were five Dirty Harry movies that proved that this works just fine, if movies prove anything. There was also a series of four movies that proved that you really shouldn’t clone dinosaurs.
Meanwhile, as the Associated Press reports, in the real world:
Consent decrees, which are enforceable by the courts, were put in place by the Obama Justice Department in such racially fraught cities as Cleveland and Ferguson, Missouri. A decree worked out under the Obama administration is awaiting approval in Baltimore, which erupted in riots in 2015 over the death of Freddie Gray in police custody. And an agreement is being negotiated in Chicago.
NAACP President Cornell Brooks called the move by the Trump Justice Department “somewhere between chilling and alarming.”
“Consent decrees are the means by which you provide a hedge of protection, civil rights and civil liberties,” Brooks said. “Why would our attorney general upend and undo that? This review and potential reversal represents a potentially catastrophic, life-or-death consequence for cities where citizens feel like they’re under siege.”
On the other hand:
James Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, welcomed Sessions’ memo as “gratifying.”
“If a consent decree is warranted, a consent decree should be imposed,” Pasco said. “But in a lot of places, decrees are punitive in nature and do absolutely nothing to improve the climate of the city.”
He complained that consent decrees make police officers look like villains, when “the vast majority of police officers are performing heroically every day.”
On the other hand:
Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, a black man who died after a New York City officer put him in a chokehold in 2014, expressed frustration over the Trump administration stand, saying, “When all else fails, the federal government is our safety net.”
“In a case like this, if we don’t get an indictment, who do we turn to if the attorney general is going to look the other way and say, ‘Hey, it’s not my fight,'” Carr said.
Dirty Harry just smiles. Slate’s Jamelle Bouie isn’t smiling:
As a key legacy of the Obama administration, these consent agreements were part of an aggressive effort to improve relations between police departments and the communities they serve. Critically, consent decrees were part of a larger process that also produced detailed investigations of the police departments in question, meticulous documents that brought reporting and data analysis to bear on claims of police abuse and dysfunction. In Ferguson, for instance, Department of Justice investigators uncovered a long pattern of discrimination and harassment on the part of the city, its police, and its municipal officials. In particular, police were tasked with collecting fines and other revenue from the area’s black residents, levying unnecessary fees, and harassing black drivers and pedestrians for minor infractions. Ferguson officials openly discussed how to extract wealth from black residents, and local courts leaned into this scheme, harshly punishing those who couldn’t pay trumped up fines or respond to purposefully obtuse warnings.
The abuses were not a few bad cops, but systematic. They were built into the local system, and that means Sessions is simply wrong:
Without consent decrees and their attendant investigations – without the threat of federal involvement – there’s little direct incentive for cities and states to confront abusive, dysfunctional police departments. If that doesn’t happen, there is definitely no stopping those “bad actors” (and the officials who enable them) from running roughshod over the constitutional rights of American citizens and black Americans in particular.
Sessions, it should be said, isn’t the first attorney general to take a distinct lack of interest in securing the rights of minorities from local abuse and lawlessness. Yet his actions and his insistence on a kind of states’ rights for law enforcement is striking given the Justice Department’s history.
That would be this:
Founded in 1870, during the effort to rebuild and reconstruct the South, the Department of Justice was quickly tasked with implementing the Enforcement Acts. These were a series of laws passed in 1870 and 1871 to protect the civil and voting rights of newly enfranchised black Americans and crack down on the epidemic of white vigilantism that threatened the stability of Reconstruction governments. Empowered by Congress and the White House, New Hampshire–born Attorney General Amos T. Akerman utilized federal machinery to supervise local elections and stop abuse of black voters from groups like the Ku Klux Klan.
The Department of Justice hasn’t always lived up to its history. But it’s there, part of the agency’s past. And it’s no exaggeration to say that Jeff Sessions has jettisoned that commitment in service of a larger agenda that, if other evidence is any indication, is antithetical to the vision of a pluralistic, inclusive United States. Sessions, recall, was an early defender of Donald Trump’s call for a “Muslim ban” during the campaign, and his former aide Stephen Miller was a key force behind the administration’s initial travel ban in January.
Remember the first Dirty Harry movie. The black punk is humiliated. Clint Eastwood walks off with a wry smile on his face. It’s pure white-male dominance. So is this:
The broad story is of an attorney general – and an administration – with no real interest in challenging police misconduct. And beyond policing lies voting rights and ballot access, where official hostility is even more pronounced.
Nearly 150 years after the Department of Justice was founded to, in part, protect the rights and privileges of formerly enslaved Americans, we now have an attorney general who is committed to undermining that legacy of fairness and equality.
Even Clint Eastwood walked away from that nonsense. An older man, a now wiser man, knows that Dirty Harry stuff was movie-fantasy nonsense. Grown men know better. There’s the risk of becoming no more than a parody of a tough guy.
That may be the problem here. So, ask yourself a question, Donny Boy. Do you feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk? Do you want to be a parody of Dirty Harry?
He does. He is.