Donald Trump just said that when he is President, he will encourage the police to stop black people on the street and take their guns.
I know that this is anathema in today’s Twitter culture, but in order to understand how offensive Trump’s latest stop-and-frisk remarks are, you have to go back and consider some context.
Trump was asked yesterday what he would do specifically to stop “violence in the black community” and “black-on-black crime.” His response to that question was that he would institute a nationwide “stop and frisk” policy:
“I would do stop-and-frisk. I think you have to. We did it in New York, it worked incredibly well and you have to be proactive and, you know, you really help people sort of change their mind automatically,” Trump told the questioner. “You understand, you have to have, in my opinion, I see what’s going on here, I see what’s going on in Chicago, I think stop-and-frisk. In New York City it was so incredible, the way it worked. Now, we had a very good mayor, but New York City was incredible, the way that worked, so I think that could be one step you could do.”
Alright, so this requires some more background. What Trump is basically calling for is for police departments to conduct widespread stops that are referred to in legal parlance as “Terry stops,” after the Supreme Court decision Terry v. Ohio, which (in my opinion, erroneously) found the practice lawful under the Constitution. This is the standard the police have to meet under Terry in order to stop and frisk you for weapons:
In view of these facts, we cannot blind ourselves to the need for law enforcement officers to protect themselves and other prospective victims of violence in situations where they may lack probable cause for an arrest. When an officer is justified in believing that the individual whose suspicious behavior he is investigating at close range is armed and presently dangerous to the officer or to others, it would appear to be clearly unreasonable to deny the officer the power to take necessary measures to determine whether the person is, in fact, carrying a weapon and to neutralize the threat of physical harm. . . .
A search for weapons in the absence of probable cause to arrest, however, must, like any other search, be strictly circumscribed by the exigencies which justify its initiation. Warden v. Hayden,387 U.S. 294, 310 (1967) (MR. JUSTICE FORTAS, concurring). Thus, it must be limited to that which is necessary for the discovery of weapons which might be used to harm the officer or others nearby, and may realistically be characterized as something less than a “full” search, even though it remains a serious intrusion.
The basic effect of the Terry decision is that police can stop and frisk you for weapons and drugs for pretty much any reason whatsoever and never will they either face a 42 USC 1983 lawsuit or have evidence get thrown out of court. The Terry doctrine is a blanket license to cops to stop and frisk the outer clothing of anyone they encounter, as long as they are willing to testify that the person in question was “acting suspicious.”
As you might have guessed, this policy has become wildly unpopular in almost all jurisdictions where it has been used with any sort of frequency, and due to public outcry (about, among other things, the racial profiling which it practically invites) many police departments have voluntarily discontinued use of the Terry stop, or at least severely curtailed its use.
So Trump’s answer to the original question was offensive enough, because Trump’s answer to “crime in the black community” is, basically, “tell the cops to stop and frisk more black people.”
But wait, because it gets worse. In a follow up question, Trump was asked, quite reasonably, “how would that help?”
Trump explains stop and frisk: Police are “proactive…they’ll stop, they’ll frisk, and they’ll take the gun away.”
— Ali Vitali (@alivitali) September 22, 2016
And this is where the context is important. Remember that Trump is continuing an answer to a question that specifically started with what he would do about “violence in the black community” and “black-on-black crime.” He wasn’t asked about crime generally, he was asked about black crime. And his response in total can only be seen as an invitation for police to stop black people on the street and confiscate their guns.
Now the question I have is this – if Hillary Clinton became President and encouraged police departments in the posh white suburbs to stop and frisk people to take their guns away, the gun rights folks would rightly be having a cow. Just look at the way people are reacting to legislative proposals to increase background checks before owning a gun – total rigid opposition and nonstop condemnation of the push to confiscate guns.
On the other hand, one of the two major Presidential candidates is out there actively saying that the police need to be aggressively stopping people on the street and frisking them with an eye towards literally taking their guns. I mean, this is not making it harder or more inconvenient to get a gun, or putting gun owners on a list, or reducing magazine sizes, this is, “hey, cops should be stopping people on the street and taking their guns. Especially in the black community.”
Now listen, even if Trump is elected, he will not have the power to set policy for every police department in the country. Or even a single police department. That is not how federalism works. But Trump apparently doesn’t know that, and his instinct is to say that in a world in which he were given total power, we would have the cops stopping black people on the street and confiscating their guns.
That’s… kind of a big deal, right? Seems like the sort of thing an organization committed to the preservation of the Second Amendment rights of all citizens should be vigilant against and using its considerable political power to oppose, right?
It’s getting difficult to squint your eyes and see Trump as the lesser of the gun-grabbing evils as time goes on. But even if you believe that he is, his comments in this regard should be condemned, both for their overt racial bias and for their disregard of the rights of Americans to have and carry firearms without constant harassment from law enforcement. Even a candidate you endorse as the lesser of two evils should be kept honest.
NOTE: I reached out early this morning to the NRA asking for comment. As of the time of this article’s publication, I had not received a response. When and if they respond, I will update this post with their statement in full.