During a speech on Long Island on Friday, President Trump took a break from discussing gang violence and illegal immigration to give the law enforcement officers gathered for his remarks some advice on how to treat suspects.
“When you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over?” Trump said, miming the physical motion of an officer shielding a suspect’s head to keep it from bumping against the squad car.
“Like, don’t hit their head, and they just killed somebody — don’t hit their head,” Trump continued. “I said, you can take the hand away, okay?”
These remarks, coming after Trump talked about towns ravaged by gang violence and described “these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon,” met with applause from at least some of the law enforcement officers gathered for his speech at Suffolk County Community College in New York.
A group of uniform officers standing behind Trump applauded, and, when he turned to face them, some smiled and appeared to chuckle.
In response to a question regarding Trump’s comments and the officers who applauded, the Suffolk County police quickly distanced the department from Trump’s comments, saying Friday that they would not accept this treatment of people in custody.
“The Suffolk County Police Department has strict rules and procedures relating to the handling of prisoners, and violations of those rules and procedures are treated extremely seriously,” the department said in an emailed statement. “As a department, we do not and will not tolerate ‘rough[ing]’ up prisoners.”
Trump’s remarks also drew a rebuke from the International Association of Chiefs of Police. In a statement, the group did not specifically mention Trump by name but appeared to respond to his speech by stressing the importance of treating all people, including suspects, with respect.
“Managing use of force is one of the most difficult challenges faced by law enforcement agencies,” the group said. “The ability of law enforcement officers to enforce the law, protect the public, and guard their own safety, the safety of innocent bystanders, and even those suspected or apprehended for criminal activity is very challenging.
“For these reasons, law enforcement agencies develop policies and procedures, as well as conduct extensive training, to ensure that any use of force is carefully applied and objectively reasonable considering the situation confronted by the officers,” the statement continued.
Trump’s comments were made during a dark, foreboding address largely focusing on the transnational gang MS-13. He also peppered his speech with expressions of support for police, echoing his efforts both during and since the presidential campaign to portray himself as a champion of law enforcement.
These remarks were condemned by civil rights and advocacy groups. Vanita Gupta, who ran the Justice Department’s civil rights division during the Obama administration, decried the comments and said they ran counter to efforts from local police agencies to repair relationships with their communities.
“Trump’s remarks today are unconscionable,” Gupta, who is now president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in a statement. “The President of the United States, standing before an audience of law enforcement officials, actively encouraged police violence. His remarks undermine the positive efforts of local law enforcement agencies and communities around the country working to address police misconduct and build community-police trust.”
Janai Nelson, the associate director-counsel NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said Trump’s comments “encouraging police officers to disregard the safety of individuals in their custody rises to a new level of danger.”
“We need law enforcement who do not share the Trump Administration’s outdated and unlawful views to promote protecting the rights and safety of all Americans by condemning those who condone impunity among law enforcement,” Nelson said in a statement.
The American Civil Liberties Union posted on Twitter that Trump was “urging lawlessness” with his speech.
Trump addressed law enforcement officers in Brentwood, NY today and endorsed the use of force against people suspected of criminal activity.
— ACLU National (@ACLU) July 28, 2017
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