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Editorial: Trump and sheriff exploit officer’s death for political points

Chronicle Editorial Board Dec. 30, 2018 Updated: Dec. 30, 2018 2:38 p.m.

Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson, vowing restraint in the face of the outrage and tragedy, said he would not go there: “The last thing in the world I want to do is politicize the death of Officer (Ronil) Singh.”

Then he went there.

“We were prohibited — law enforcement was prohibited because of sanctuary laws that led to the encounter with Officer Singh,” Christianson said at a Friday news conference. “The outcome could have been different if law enforcement wasn’t restricted, prohibited, or had their hands tied because of political interference.”

Actually, Christianson’s facts were as dubious as his shamelessness in using the fatal shooting of the Newman (Stanislaus County) officer to try to score a political point. The suspect in the shooting, 32-year-old day laborer Gustavo Perez Arriaga, had been picked up on a DUI charge in Madera County in 2014, long before the state’s 2017 sanctuary law that severely limited communications between local authorities and federal immigration officials in all but more serious crimes.

President Trump did not wait for the facts, or even an arrest, before invoking the suspect’s undocumented status as justification for his demand for $5 billion toward a border wall.

“There is right now a full scale manhunt going on in California for an illegal immigrant accused of shooting and killing a police office during a traffic stop,” Trump tweeted. “Time to get tough on Border Security. Build the Wall!”

Cpl. Ronil Singh’s death during a traffic stop Wednesday is heartbreaking on so many levels. Singh, born in Fiji, exemplified an uplifting story of an immigrant who wanted to serve his new homeland. His family’s loss is society’s loss. Any assault on the men and women who protect and serve their communities — putting their lives on the line — is an unacceptable breach on the boundaries of civilized order.

Yet Christianson and Trump crossed the lines of decency by jumping to the conclusion, wholly prematurely, that the presence of sanctuary city laws or a wall on the southern border could have prevented this act of violence. Many respected law enforcement officials conclude that the relationship with immigrant communities allowed by sanctuary laws advances the cause of public safety by encouraging victims and witnesses in crimes to come forward.

This was not Trump’s only attempt to seize on death for a political point about immigration. His first public comment about the deaths of two immigrant children in U.S. custody was to blame Democrats for their “pathetic immigration policies.” He offered no condolences, no hint of his government’s responsibility. “Border Patrol needs the Wall and it will all end,” he tweeted.

His response was shameful, disingenuous — and all too predictable.

This commentary is from The Chronicle’s editorial board.