Last week, Donald Trump stood in front of a joint session of Congress and announced his guest, Jamiel Shaw Jr. As the camera zoomed in on him, Shaw smiled with humility, and those around him stood up and clapped in his honor. “Jamiel’s 17-year-old son was viciously murdered by an illegal immigrant gang member, who had just been released from prison,” Trump said. “Jamiel Shaw Jr. was an incredible young man, with unlimited potential, who was getting ready to go to college where he would have excelled as a great quarterback. But he never got the chance.”
The joint session wasn’t Shaw’s first appearance with Trump. He tagged along with him on the campaign trail and even appeared in a Willie Horton–style campaign ad that touted Trump’s tough-on-immigration approach. “Trump is the only one saying: ‘You’re gonna be dealt with,’” Shaw says in the ad. But, as Bustle pointed out, between 2010 and 2014 the Department of Homeland Security counted only 121 people charged with murder after having been previously held by immigration officials, about 0.001 percent of the total number of undocumented immigrants in this country.
Trump chose to highlight Shaw’s case not because he wanted to emphasize the tragedy that is murder, or even just to stir up unfounded fears about the criminality of undocumented immigrants generally. He was doing something else too, something nefariously brilliant. By using Shaw, Trump was specifically pitting black Americans against undocumented immigrants, telling us that brown, undocumented immigrants will kill our families too. In doing so, Trump told us that our families matter, that we are Americans. For once, black Americans weren’t the subtext of dog-whistle politics but the intended audience.
The cynicism of this move comes into focus when we look at Trump’s actual agenda for black communities. Outside of the tragic stories like Shaw’s, black Americans don’t place quite as high on the chain anywhere else in Trump’s America. Take, for example, his recent executive order doubling down on and expanding protections for police officers. The order, Preventing Violence Against Federal, State, Tribal, and Local Law Enforcement Officers, will “enforce all Federal laws in order to enhance the protection and safety of Federal, State, tribal, and local law enforcement officers,” and “define new federal crimes, and increase penalties for existing federal crimes, in order to prevent violence” against officers. The order also aims to create definitions of “new crimes of violence” against officers and establish mandatory minimums for existing ones. Billed as a way to bolster safety and protection, the order is really a reaction against the Black Lives Matter movement and the Department of Justice’s agenda under President Obama, which investigated and scrutinized police departments across the country for infringing upon the civil rights of black and brown Americans.