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The former president's remarks focused heavily on public safety, as he put forward proposals like moving the homeless to tent cities, hiring thousands of police and overriding governors unwilling to deploy the National Guard.
In a closely watched speech on Tuesday, former President Donald Trump outlined a public safety platform that included proposals like applying the death penalty to drug traffickers, moving homeless people to large tent camps on the outskirts of cities, and approving federal funding to hire and retain thousands of police officers.
Echoing rhetoric used frequently during his time in office, he also lashed out at Democratic state and local leaders for not taking a tough enough approach on crime and suggested that the president should have the authority to override governors unwilling to deploy the National Guard to engage in law enforcement activities.
The speech marked Trump's first appearance in Washington, D.C., since leaving office in January 2021, after a mob of his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol earlier that month. It also comes ahead of this November's mid-term elections where he is backing a slate of candidates for governor who have embraced many of his positions and adapted them for state government.
There's a strong possibility Trump will run for president again in 2024, with some news reports indicating he could announce his candidacy later this year. That could mean Tuesday's speech is just the beginning of a new chapter for the often tense and chaotic relationship Trump has maintained with state and local leaders.
"Our country is going to hell, it is going to hell very fast," he said during his speech, which was hosted by the America First Policy Institute, a think tank founded by Trump allies to advance his agenda.
To combat crime, Trump called for "the largest increase in the hiring of police officers in American history," and suggested Congress should pass funding to support a policing buildup involving "tens of thousands" of officers.
He also bashed supporters of the "defund the police" movement that grew after the 2020 murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white police officer in Minneapolis.
"We have to leave our police alone," Trump said.
"Every time they do something they're afraid they're going to be destroyed," he added. "Give them back the respect that they deserve."
Much of the backlash towards police in recent years has been fueled by controversial incidents where officers have killed people during law enforcement encounters, along with more general concerns about unconstitutional policing practices, misconduct, racial bias and statistics that highlight how, for instance, Black Americans are fatally shot by police at disproportionate rates.
Trump also took aim at moves by some state and local governments to eliminate cash bail in certain circumstances, and voiced support for a policing practice that has drawn scrutiny known as "stop and frisk."
The former president praised the approach that countries like China and Singapore take with harsh sentences for people found guilty of drug crimes. "If you look at countries throughout the world, the ones that don't have a drug problem are those that institute a very quick trial death penalty sentence for drug dealers," he said.
"These drug traffickers should and must receive the death penalty," Trump added, arguing this would sharply reduce drug sales and overdose deaths. "You execute a drug dealer, and you'll save 500 lives."
Overall, he said that the nation would need to be willing to get "tough," "nasty," and "mean" to deal with violent crime, a line that drew applause from the audience.
'Take Back Our Streets'
Trump delved into issues around homelessness and mental health as well, saying that: "We have to take back our streets and public spaces" from people who are homeless, addicted to drugs or mentally ill.
"The homeless need to go to shelters, the long-term mentally ill need to go to institutions, and the unhoused drug addicts need to go to rehab or, if necessary and appropriate, jail," he said, without recognizing the difficulties many states and localities have for years faced coming up with the funding it would take to provide adequate shelter and support services to the people living on their streets.
A more specific option Trump offered on homelessness is to "open up large parcels of inexpensive land in the outer reaches of the cities," where it would be possible to "create thousands and thousands of high-quality tents," while also constructing permanent bathrooms and bringing in medical, mental health and substance abuse staff.
"You have to move people out," he said. "It will be the ambition of these people and all of us to get their life back on track."
Trump also suggested that where there is a "true and total breakdown of law and order" the federal government should have the power to send in the National Guard without "having to wait for the approval of some governor who thinks it's politically incorrect to call them in."
"When governors refuse to protect their people, we need to bring in what's necessary anyway, we have to go beyond the governor," he said.
He later added that the next president should send the National Guard into some Chicago neighborhoods until violent crime in those places goes down. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Trump's remarks.
Trump staked out his hardline law-and-order positions against the backdrop of a congressional inquiry that is looking at the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and his attempts to forestall his 2020 election loss to President Biden based on unproven claims about voter fraud.
So far, the investigation is indicating that Trump declined to take a number of actions that might have helped to stop a crowd of his supporters who assaulted law enforcement officers at the Capitol as they violently breached the building.
Bill Lucia is the executive editor of Route Fifty.
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