By James D. Agresti
June 6, 2020
After falsely accusing the U.S. Park Police of tear-gassing peaceful protesters on behalf of President Trump, many media outlets and politicians are claiming that he called on governors to forcibly “dominate protestors.” Quite the opposite, Trump explicitly stated he is an “ally of all peaceful protesters” and that it is the “professional anarchists, violent mobs, arsonists, looters” and other lawbreakers who should be stopped.
Beyond their failure to draw a distinction between peaceful demonstrators and violent lawbreakers, the same cadre of media outlets are stirring racial strife by using anecdotes and half-truths to paint a false picture of systemic police violence against African Americans.
Also, contrary to antifa supporters and others who assert that government has no obligation to protect citizens from theft, property destruction, and violence, the Constitutional facts prove that federal, state, and local governments are required to do just that. Moreover, it is their primary duty and core reason for their existence.
Twisting Trump’s Statements
During a conference call with the nation’s governors on June 1st, President Trump told them that they need to “get much tougher” on looters, rioters, and people who are assaulting others. He emphasized that some of these crimes were caught “on tape” and the perpetrators need to be arrested and prosecuted.
To stop the carnage caused by such lawbreakers, Trump told the governors that they “have to dominate.” As an example of this, he complimented Minnesota Governor Tim Walz for restoring order with help from the National Guard and stated “I fully agree with the way he handled it the last couple of days.”
Later that day in the Rose Garden, Trump gave a speech in which he reiterated: “Today, I have strongly recommended to every governor to deploy the National Guard in sufficient numbers that we dominate the streets.” Making clear that he was not talking about peaceful demonstrators, he stressed that he is “an ally of all peaceful protesters” and:
- “we cannot allow the righteous cries and peaceful protesters to be drowned out by an angry mob.”
- “the biggest victims of the rioting are peace-loving citizens in our poorest communities, and as their President, I will fight to keep them safe.”
- “a number of state and local governments have failed to take necessary action to safeguard their residents.”
- “innocent people have been savagely beaten, like the young man in Dallas, Texas, who was left dying on the street, or the woman in Upstate New York viciously attacked by dangerous thugs.”
- “these are not acts of peaceful protest. These are acts of domestic terror.”
- “all Americans were rightly sickened and revolted by the brutal death of George Floyd. My administration is fully committed that, for George and his family, justice will be served.”
Yet, a slew of media outlets and politicians distorted the president’s words by claiming that he told governors to “dominate protesters.” This includes but is not limited to CNN, Bloomberg News, Newsweek, and Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer.
The New York Times amplified the disinformation and drama by reporting that “Trump vowed to ‘dominate’ protesters” and has deployed the “full might of federal law enforcement to crush protests.” CNN’s Anderson Cooper took it another step further by saying that Trump “seems to think that dominating black people, dominating peaceful protesters is law and order.”
This is akin to what many media outlets, politicians, and activists did in 2017 when they accused Trump of calling white supremacists “very fine people.” In reality, Trump used that phrase to describe “innocent” protestors—and at the same press conference—he explicitly “condemned” the white supremacists two times, said they were “very bad people,” and emphasized that he was not calling them “very fine people.” A reporter at the conference even tried to put this spin on his words, and Trump responded, “No, no.” Yet, three years later, Maggie Haberman and Alexander Burns of the New York Times are still repeating this falsehood.
Stirring Racial Strife
In addition to twisting Trump’s words in a racially provocative manner, many people with large public platforms are also distorting the facts about police violence against African Americans. This, in turn, has fueled widespread societal divisions, hatred, and murders of police officers.
For one of many examples, the editorial board of the New York Times recently published a commentary titled “America’s Protests Won’t Stop Until Police Brutality Does.” As proof that police are systemically violent and racist, they named 12 “black Americans brutalized or killed by law enforcement,” starting with George Floyd and going back to Amadou Diallo in 1999.
This list also includes Michael Brown, despite the fact the Obama administration Department of Justice found physical and eyewitness evidence that the police officer shot Brown in a clear-cut case of self-defense. The Times editors claim there are “countless more” such cases; yet they populated this list with a patently false one.
Most importantly, the 12 cases cited by the Times occurred over 21 years and amount to roughly one out of every 27,000 murders committed over this period. Like the Times editorial, virtually every major media outlet repetitively focus on just a few of the 15,000 murders and 6.9 million violent crimes that are committed per year in the U.S.—particularly those with the potential to stir racial strife. The same outlets then use these cases, which amount to a minuscule fraction of all violence, to spread false, sweeping narratives.
Such journalism exploits the statistical fact that anecdotes can be highly deceitful and the psychological fact that people are easily misled by them because it’s easier to grasp stories than data. It also disregards the Times own news and editorial standards, which claim that “we tell our readers the complete, unvarnished truth as best we can learn it.”
The same Times editorial claims that “racial inequality remains rampant” in “enforcement of the law,” but the comprehensive facts of this matter reveal just the opposite. As documented in a 2018 paper in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science:
- “The most common means of testing for racial disparity in police use of deadly force is to compare the odds of being fatally shot for blacks to the odds of being fatally shot for whites.”
- That common approach is misleading because it uses the false assumption that white and black people commit life-threatening crimes at the same rates.
- The cogent way to analyze this issue is to compare the odds of being fatally shot to each race’s “involvement in those situations where the police may be more likely to use deadly force.”
- Based on four different national datasets on “murder/nonnegligent manslaughter, violent crime, and weapons violations,” “in nearly every case, whites were either more likely to be fatally shot by police or police showed no significant disparity in either direction.”
Likewise, a study conducted by the left-leaning Center for Policing Equity reveals that police are 42% less likely to use lethal force when arresting black people than when arresting whites. Yet, the authors of this study buried that data on the 19th page of a 29-page report. Then, the Washington Post cited this report as proof that police are more likely to kill blacks than whites and that “there is no correlation between violent crime and who is killed by police officers.”
Even though there are more than 800,000 sworn law enforcement officers in the U.S., some argue that even one unjust killing by a police officer is too much. Regardless of whether this ideal is achievable, it is irrational to accuse police of systemic racism based on the actions of far less than 1% of them. Especially since comprehensive facts show nothing of the sort.
Trump began his speech on June 1st by stating, “My first and highest duty as President is to defend our great country and the American people.” He later said that “a number of state and local governments have failed to take necessary action to safeguard their residents,” and that he would “protect the rights of law-abiding Americans” if they do not.
Contrary to those who argue that federal and state governments have no Constitutional obligation to protect the rights of citizens, Trump is correct that this is his and their foremost duty.
First of all, Trump’s statement mirrors the Declaration of Independence, which established the foundational principles of the U.S. government and its obligations to the people. Like Trump’s speech, the opening sentence of this seminal document states that “Governments are instituted” to “secure” people’s “rights.”
Likewise, James Madison—the primary author of the Bill of Rights and Father of the Constitution”:
- stated at the Constitutional Convention that the defining purpose of the new government they were forming was to provide “more effectually for the security of private rights and the steady dispensation of Justice.”
- wrote in the Federalist Papers that “the first object of government” is the “protection” of the “faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate.”
However, the framers of the Constitution and Bill of Rights left most of those responsibilities to the states, many of which were unwilling to join the union unless they maintained a large degree of independence. As summarized by a 1991 paper in the Duke Law Review, “in most respects, the Constitution left the protection of the rights of individuals under the control of the states.”
As such, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 1833 case of Barron v Baltimore that the rights of the people in the Bill of Rights only had to be respected by the federal government and could be infringed by state governments.
- enacting or enforcing “any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.”
- depriving “any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”
- denying “any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
The Amendment also gives the U.S. Congress the “power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions” above. Congress had since passed multitudes of such laws, and the President “is responsible for implementing and enforcing” them.
The primary impetus for the 14th Amendment was that states were violating the rights of the newly freed African Americans and failing to protect them from groups like the Ku Klux Klan that were terrorizing and killing them. Hence, Congressman John Bingham (R–OH), who drafted the 14th Amendment and introduced it in the House of Representatives, repeatedly stated that it would require state governments to provide “equal protection” to every person’s “life, liberty, and property.”
The same applies to local governments, which are offsprings of the states. As detailed in the book Managing Local Government: An Essential Guide for Municipal and County Managers, “Local governments derive their authority from their states” and “have no independent authority unless the state grants it to them.”
Despite the 14th Amendment and the founders declarations that the main purpose of government is to protect people’s rights, there are some who claim that the Constitution does not require federal or state governments to defend people’s life, liberty, or property.
For a prime example, P.E. Moskowitz writes in The Nation that “nothing in the First Amendment prevents citizens (members of antifa or otherwise) from interrupting someone’s protest. Nor does it guarantee police protection for white nationalists. It only limits the ability of Congress from passing laws that interfere with speech.” This blatant half-truth ignores the 14th Amendment, which requires all governments to equally protect the Constitutional rights of all people.
Other such arguments are grounded in misinterpretations of court decisions. One of the most common is Warren v. District of Columbia, in which the majority of judges on a federal appeals court dismissed a lawsuit against the District that stemmed from its failure to protect three women from two men who held them captive, beat, and raped them for 14 hours after they called the police for help.
According to Scott Unzicker writing at Guns.com, the Warren ruling means “that police have no legal obligation to ‘protect and serve’ the population.” However, the ruling says just the opposite but notes that this duty cannot be enforced through a private lawsuit for “negligence” except under special circumstances:
- “Although recognizing the obligation of public employees to perform their duties fully and adequately, the law properly does not permit that obligation to be enforced in a private suit for money damages.”
- “The duty to provide public services is owed to the public at large, and, absent a special relationship between the police and an individual, no specific legal duty exists.”
- “Dereliction in the performance of police duties may, therefore, be redressed only in the context of a public prosecution and not in a private suit for money damages.”
Others cite the Supreme Court’s 1989 ruling in DeShaney v. Winnebago as evidence that the Constitution does not require government to defend people. In reality, the decision is far more narrow and declares “that a State’s failure to protect an individual against private violence simply does not constitute a violation of the Due Process Clause” of the 14th Amendment.
The Due Process clause forbids states from depriving “any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,” and thus, the Court ruled in DeShaney that this is “a limitation on the State’s power to act, not as a guarantee of certain minimal levels of safety and security.” However, the Court also noted that a state “may not, of course, selectively deny its protective services to certain disfavored minorities without violating the Equal Protection Clause.”
That last statement accords with John Bingham’s answer to a question posed to him by Congressman Robert Hale (R–NY), a leading opponent of the 14th Amendment. When Bingham introduced the Amendment in the House, Hale asked him if it gives Congress powers to protect people’s “life, liberty, and personal property.” Bingham replied that it “certainly does” and added that “it confers upon Congress power to see to it that the protection given by the laws of the States shall be equal in respect to life and liberty and property to all persons.” Hale then asked what part of the Amendment contains this provision, and Bingham answered, “The words ‘equal protection’ contain it, and nothing else.”
Furthermore, the rulings in DeShaney and Warren apply to specific circumstances and say nothing about the general duty of government. This duty was spelled out in the Supreme Court’s 1911 ruling in Chicago v. Sturges:
Primarily, governments exist for the maintenance of social order. Hence it is that the obligation of the government to protect life, liberty, and property against the conduct of the indifferent, the careless, and the evil-minded may be regarded as lying at the very foundation of the social compact.
Speaking even more directly to Trump’s remarks, the same Supreme Court ruling states that it is the “obligation of the state to preserve social order and the property of the citizen against the violence of a riot or a mob.”
During the 150+ years since the 14th Amendment was enacted, the Supreme Court has issued various rulings that wavered between enforcing the rights it acknowledged and disregarding them. Some of these rulings are textbook examples of judicial activism where certain justices prioritized their personal views over the Constitution, and the result was that people’s rights were violated. For instance, the Court’s 5–4 decision in the 1875 case of United States v. Cruikshank trampled on the 14th Amendment and unleashed white militias and mobs to subjugate black people through violence and intimidation for decades.
Many of those rulings have been effectively overturned, but even in modern times, the majority of the Supreme Court has clung to a doctrine called “selective incorporation.” Under this invention of the Court, state governments don’t have to honor all Constitutional rights but merely those that the Court deems “fundamental” to the American “scheme of ordered liberty.”
The U.S. founders, the primary author of the 14th Amendment, and the U.S. Supreme Court have made clear that the protection of people’s life, liberty, and property is the core purpose of government. In keeping with this, a 1948 paper in the Indiana Law Journal states:
The right to engage in lawful conduct and to be protected therein against the lawless is the fundamental reason for the existence of organized government. The protection of the right, therefore, is equally vital to government regardless of the benefits which its exercise may or may not confer, for if the right is not protected, government has failed in its basic function.
To buttress that statement, the paper cites a 1939 brief by the American Bar Association, which declares that people “need not give up their lawful rights simply because the lawless insist on attacking them. Traditionally, officials must enforce the law the lawful way, not the easiest way.” Thus, the brief says that when people’s rights are threatened by violence:
The only proper remedy for such a situation, small or serious, is the police protection to which citizens are entitled, whether they are singly or in groups.
Trump has called on governors to honor their Constitutional duty to do just that. Yet, instead of educating the public about this vital issue, many media outlets are falsely reporting that Trump wants to “dominate protesters.” Some journalists, like CNN’s Anderson Cooper, have twisted this even further by saying that Trump wants to dominate “black people.”
In conjunction with that inflammatory rhetoric, nearly all major media outlets are spreading counterfactual narratives, half-truths, and outright falsehoods about racial inequities.
In his famed “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote that the first step in achieving justice is to gather “facts to determine whether injustices exist.” Similarly, Abraham Lincoln said, “I have faith in the people. They will not consent to disunion. The danger is, that they are misled. Let them know the truth and the country is safe.” The vast bulk of media is not providing the relevant facts or even a semblance of truth to the people, and this imperils both justice and safety.