ATLANTA — A national police organization’s endorsement of Donald Trump has exposed a divide within the ranks of law enforcement: Can they support someone who calls himself the law-and-order candidate but was caught on tape bragging about sexually predatory behavior toward women?
And what about Trump antagonizing the very minority communities that police agencies need to win over amid turmoil over police shootings of unarmed black men?
Last month, the national Fraternal Order of Police endorsed the New York businessman, saying he’s the one candidate who takes time to understand the issues facing law enforcement. Now, some officers — particularly African-Americans — are questioning whether Trump is worthy of the endorsement.
“At a time when we’re all trying to unite and bring the world to a calm, the last person we need is a Donald Trump,” said David Fisher, president of the greater Philadelphia chapter of the National Black Police Association. “And the last thing the police need is to hitch its wagon to a Donald Trump.”
The FOP and Trump were to have appeared at a rally last Monday in Philadelphia, weeks after the endorsement was made. But the event was abruptly canceled after the release of a video from 2005 in which Trump can be heard making a series of vulgar and sexually aggressive remarks about women.
The cancellation triggered talk among police ranks that it was done in response to the video and to pushback from officers who already were angry over the endorsement. Chuck Canterbury, president of the 340,000-member organization, told The Associated Press that the event was canceled because Hurricane Matthew struck his hometown of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and that he hopes to reschedule it.
Canterbury said any endorsement is determined by agreement of at least two-thirds of the group’s 45 state lodges. The national FOP and its executive board have no say in the matter, he said.
The FOP has a history of backing Republicans. The recent exception was Bill Clinton during his re-election in 1996, after the Crime Bill of 1994 paid for the hiring of thousands of new officers across the country.
The only time the group hasn’t endorsed a presidential candidate in its 102-year history was 2012, when neither Republican Mitt Romney nor Democrat Barack Obama was seen as friendly enough to its cause.
Several leaders among black police groups said they considered the FOP endorsement to be a reflection of an organization dominated by whites who are insensitive to the needs of black communities and black officers.
“Trust me, it was a group of white males who made that decision,” said Fisher, who retired a year ago after nearly three decades as a Philadelphia detective and officer. He noted that black officers often live in the communities they serve, some of the same neighborhoods feeling disenfranchised and at odds with police.
“I go home to an African-American community,” Fisher said. “I go to an African-American barbershop. After every shooting and every illegal stop, I go and I have to sit in a barbershop. There are some things you can never defend.”
Canterbury rejected any suggestion that the endorsement decision was made by “50 old white guys sitting around a table. … Members all across the country made that decision.”
Reggie Miller, the chairman of the National Black Police Association and a retired officer from Nashville, Tennessee, disputed the idea that Trump is a law-and-order candidate and said Trump has offered more platitudes than detail on how to combat police shootings, racism and inequities.
“When you say ‘restore law and order,’ what does that mean? How do you do that? Or do you want to bring back stop and frisk,” said Miller in reference to a police tactic widely seen as based on racial profiling. “Well, who are they stopping and who are they frisking?”
Trump has won considerable support within law enforcement circles and is widely credited for carving out time at his stops around the country to shake hands of the police providing security. But it hasn’t been without controversy.
In Summit County, Ohio, Sheriff Steve Barry took flak after SWAT team officers posed for a photo with Trump — a move that to some underscored the image of the militarization of police and appeared to be a political endorsement. Barry, a Democrat, took to Facebook to say the photo op was simply a memento.
In San Antonio, 12 police officers were disciplined after a video surfaced showing them donning Trump’s red “Make America Great Again” hats while in uniform, some of them wearing the caps while providing a motorcycle escort to the airport. And in Phoenix, the city asked the Trump campaign to pull an ad that showed officers in uniform.
But those stops have endeared Trump to officers who believe he has their backs. Even if Trump is a flawed candidate, few officers seem interested in supporting Hillary Clinton, who has long had a frosty relationship with law enforcement — and her own perceived legal troubles and a husband with a history of infidelity.
“Law enforcement in general feels Donald Trump is genuine when he talks about law enforcement. He’s been complimentary. He has defended law enforcement,” said Travis Yates, editor of lawofficer.com. “There is a sense that he genuinely cares.”
Associated Press writer Jeff Horwitz in Washington contributed to this report.