A national police union appears to be considering an endorsement of Donald J. Trump for president, a move that would exacerbate tensions at an already fraught time. The Fraternal Order of Police, representing 330,000 police officers, should take the high road instead. Officially aligning thousands of rank-and-file police officers with such a bigoted candidate would feed negative views of the police, chill community relationships, and ultimately make officers’ jobs harder.
Police feel under threat nationally, and the cold-blooded murder of officers in Dallas showed why. Locally, that sense of vulnerability surfaced in the intemperate letter police unions sent to Mayor Walsh demanding more weapons and body armor. The union leaders who led protests of the “Black Lives Matter” sign at Somerville City Hall reflect a similar anxiety among officers.
Unions exist to represent their members, and there’s no doubt that many officers will individually cast their vote for Trump. But this is not a normal election, or a normal time, and a public union endorsement of a candidate like Trump, who has dismissed whole swaths of the population as rapists or undesirables, risks pouring fuel on the fire. If the police endorse a candidate running as a thinly disguised white nationalist, the message will not go unnoticed in immigrant communities and among people of color. Police departments can (and probably would) try to distance themselves from the union’s endorsement, but to many average citizens that will sound like splitting hairs.
Hillary Clinton failed to fill out the union’s questionnaire, apparently ruling herself out as a potential endorsee. Trump both filled out the questionnaire and met with the union. But that shouldn’t mean he automatically gets the nod. In 2012, the Fraternal Order of Police declined to endorse either candidate. For the public good, hopefully they’ll choose the same course this year.