Get Informed

Subscribe to our newsletters for regular updates, analysis and context straight to your email.

Close Newsletter Signup

What you’ll read today

  • Spotlight: Police can no longer pretend to be neutral enforcer of laws

  • Could new cash to fight homelessness in San Francisco mean less reliance on police?

  • Black men disproportionately represented on sex offender registries

  • Tech, left, and right set out to clear criminal records

  • New Hampshire might be next state to abolish death penalty

  • ‘This is not what bail reform looks like,’ critics respond to Virginia prosecutor’s bail announcement

  • Trump-backed criminal justice reform bill hits opposition

In the Spotlight

Police can no longer pretend to be a neutral enforcer of laws

Amid the excitement this week about President Trump’s support for a sweeping criminal justice reform bill, two other groups of unlikely supporters at the time received somewhat less attention: the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), the largest police organization in the U.S., and the National Sheriffs’ Association. “Could it be?” asked Scott Shackford of Reason. [Scott Shackford / Reason]

Setting aside the question of what the support means, and why it was given, the fact of it being a surprise ought to be itself a surprise. We have grown accustomed to law enforcement taking knee-jerk stances against attempts to make society fairer and more humane, in matters related and unrelated to their jobs. Specifically, we have seen law enforcement become increasingly allied with the political right in ways that often bleed into their work. Law enforcement groups present an image of neutral application of laws, but their often-reactionary political stances belie any such claims.

The political views of law enforcement as a bloc were apparent during the 2016 presidential election, when law enforcement groups clamored to support Trump in droves. Trump, never one for subtlety, proclaimed, “I am the law and order candidate” during the campaign, and called for the death penalty as a punishment for killing a police officer. After he promised to back legislation called the Blue Lives Matter Act, he received an endorsement from the FOP’s 330,000 members. Then, the National Border Patrol Council, the union that represents 18,000 Border Patrol agents, announced its support for Trump, having never before endorsed a candidate for president. [Michele McPhee / Boston Globe]

During the campaign, Police magazine emailed a survey to 59,238 readers about how they planned to vote in the 2016 election, and 3,652 working officers who planned to vote responded. Out of that group, 84 percent said they supported Trump, compared to 8 percent who supported Hillary Clinton. [David Griffith / Police]

Janet Reitman, writing for the New York Times Magazine, traced the “apparent indifference on the part of government officials and law enforcement” to a “virulent, and violent, far-right movement” including white supremacists that has not only “grown and metastasized” but also “killed far more people since Sept. 11, 2001, than any other category of domestic extremist.” A national-security strategist said that even before the Trump administration, “we willingly turned the other way on white supremacy because there were real political costs to talking about white supremacy.” A report released last month by the Brennan Center for Justice argues that law enforcement seems uninterested in policing the violent far right and calls out the U.S. Justice Department for its “blind spot” on domestic terrorism and hate crimes, which Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has conceded. [Janet Reitman / New York Times Magazine]

Last summer, during two dueling rallies in Portland, Oregon, an officer “turned to a member of a far-right militia group and asked for his assistance in cuffing a left-wing counterprotester, who had been tackled” by a member of a far right hate group. At far-right events across the country, cops would stand watch, tolerating the right, while left-wing activists were “blasted by water cannons and rubber bullets,” or “met by dozens of cops in riot gear.” At a white supremacist rally in Sacramento in 2016, 10 people were hospitalized, most of them left-wing counterprotesters, some of whom were later charged with assault. Even though many white supremacists came to the rally armed, a member of the California Highway Patrol reportedly assured a member of the group, “We’re looking at you as a victim.” [Janet Reitman / New York Times Magazine]

When draft reports from a government review of how Portland police handled dueling demonstrations last summer were released, they revealed that cops “saw right-wing protesters as less of a threat than leftist ones,” according to Willamette Week. “One lieutenant felt the right-wing protesters were ‘much more mainstream’ than the left-wing protesters.” The police had robust text message communication with organizers of the far-right group Patriot Prayer, but viewed protesters on the left as “volatile.” [Katie Shepherd / Willamette Week]

The solution is not for cops to subject far-right groups to the same treatment as leftists. It is, however, important to note that law enforcement does not neutrally enforce the laws: There is a distinct bent toward conservatism. And the affinity of police for conservatives seems to be mutual. “The assimilation of law-enforcement politics into the American culture war has been a few years in the making,” writes Dara Lind for Vox. “2017 was the year that the cult of the culture-warrior cop took the reins of the federal government—thanks to a president whose most consistent theme was the restoration of social order.” That was the year that a vision of law enforcement solidified, a vision “in which rank-and-file officers are an embattled group standing up for their rights, and ‘public safety’ means deferring to the interests of those officers.” [Dara Lind / Vox]

Since law enforcement members’ first priority, in practice, is keeping themselves safe, Lind argues, “any attempts to restrict the power of police officers—whether from management or from the public—are rules imposed from the outside that could render officers unable to defend themselves. … Combine this with some high-profile ambush-style attacks on police and you have the germ of a powerful idea: that criticism of police officers puts their lives in danger.” This idea has led to the dubious “Ferguson effect” theory, the idea that protests in response to police brutality empower “criminals” and demotivate police. It has also led to the adoption of “Blue Lives Matter” as a response to “Black Lives Matter.” Conservatives from the state legislature in Louisiana to the NFL have adopted law enforcement officers as a form of identity politics; this started before Trump, and Lind predicts that it will outlast him. [Dara Lind / Vox]

Stories From The Appeal

Flickr/Dale Cruse (CC by 2.0)

Could New Cash to Fight Homelessness in San Francisco Mean Less Reliance on Police? Supporters hope the passage of Prop C heralds a more compassionate—and effective—approach. [Melissa Gira Grant]

Black Men Disproportionately Represented on Sex Offender Registries. Even though it’s unlikely that they commit sexual assault at higher rates than other ethnic or racial groups, nearly one of every 100 Black men is on a registry, a rate double that of white men. [Debbie Nathan]

Stories From Around the Country

Tech, left, and right set out to clear criminal records: The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has teamed up with Seminar Network, the Koch brothers, and the Center for American Progress to push “a new initiative that would automatically clear the criminal records of eligible offenders without them having to go through a lengthy legal process,” reports the Washington Post. “The effort aims to pass both state and federal legislation that would create digital systems to automatically clear records — eliminating a time-intensive and costly petition process for those who are eligible.” The effort, called Clean Slate, was signed into law in Pennsylvania; Michigan, Colorado, and South Carolina are among states seeking to follow suit. In Michigan, for example, over 95 percent of records eligible to be cleared have not been expunged or sealed. This can make life after a conviction, even a minor one, exceedingly difficult when it comes to employment, housing, education, among other things. [Cat Zakrzewski / Washington Post]

New Hampshire might be next state to abolish death penalty: New Hampshire came close to abolishing the death penalty in 2018, falling two votes short of overriding Governor Chris Sununu’s veto in the state Senate. But proponents of abolition gained ground on Election Day, putting them in a strong position for the next legislative session. An analysis by The Appeal: Political Report finds that voters “gave opponents of the death penalty a supermajority in the state Senate, pending one recount.” The situation in the state House is more muddled because of the chamber’s sheer size (400 members), but Democrats’ 50-seat gain bodes well for abolition. If New Hampshire abolished the death penalty, it would strengthen the hand of advocates elsewhere in the country who argue that it “doesn’t conform to our evolving standards of decency,” said John-Michael Dumais, the campaign director of the NH Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, referring to U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren’s 1958 axiom that the Eighth Amendment “must draw its meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.” [Daniel Nichanian / The Appeal: Political Report]

‘This is not what bail reform looks like,’ critics respond to Virginia prosecutor’s bail announcement: Arlington’s lead prosecutor, Theo Stamos, said this month that her office would no longer seek cash bonds for people accused of most minor misdemeanors, casting it as a much-needed reform. But critics have said the move would accomplish almost nothing. They suspect it was simply a way to ward off a progressive challenger in the next election. Brad Haywood, the county’s chief public defender, said, “her new policy will do almost nothing (and maybe nothing at all) to change the status quo in Arlington.” It appears “to do little more than pledge to follow the law as currently written.” Andy Elders, the deputy public defender in Fairfax County, said it was “so limited as to be meaningless.” He added, “This is not real criminal justice reform—it’s a cynical PR move.” In the past, Stamos has argued state lawmakers need to be the ones to make more substantial reforms but public defenders have pointed out many steps she could take as lead prosecutor. [Alex Koma / ARLnow]

Trump-backed criminal justice reform bill hits opposition: The bipartisan criminal justice bill discussed in yesterday’s Daily Appeal, “ran into a formidable political obstacle” yesterday: Tom Cotton, Republican senator from Arkansas. Cotton, who wrote an op-ed yesterday urging a “pause” on what he called a jailbreak proposal, is a longtime critic of sentencing reform. He acknowledged, however, that he could not formally oppose the proposal until he sees its text. Also yesterday, the National Sheriffs’ Association, which had previously supported the bill, joined two other law enforcement groups in calling the current version of the measure “troubling.” [Elana Schor, Burgess Everett, and Eliana Johnson / Politico]

Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend.

Have a tip for The Appeal? Write to us at A good tip is a clear description of newsworthy information that is supported by documented evidence.

The Appeal in Your Inbox

Subscribe to our newsletters for regular updates, analysis and context straight to your email.