WASHINGTON — A New York congressman defended his tweet calling President Trump a “sick guy” after the president encouraged law enforcement officers to not worry about being rough with suspects.
Trump made the comments during remarks in Brentwood, N.Y., on Friday about administration efforts to go after the largely Salvadoran MS-13 gang, or Mara Salvatrucha.
“When you see these towns and when you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon — you just see them thrown in, rough — I said, please don’t be too nice,” Trump said. “Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over? Like, don’t hit their head and they’ve just killed somebody — don’t hit their head. I said, you can take the hand away, OK?” There was some laughter and applause among the cops.
The Suffolk County Police Department, in whose jurisdiction Trump spoke, tweeted after the event, “The SCPD has strict rules & procedures relating to the handling of prisoners. Violations of those rules are treated extremely seriously. As a department, we do not and will not tolerate roughing up of prisoners.” The department has been under Justice Department oversight since 2013 under a settlement to resolve an investigation into discriminatory police practices against the Latino community.
Various other departments responded, as well as a statement from the International Association of Chiefs of Police on Police Use of Force: “Law enforcement officers are trained to treat all individuals, whether they are a complainant, suspect, or defendant, with dignity and respect. This is the bedrock principle behind the concepts of procedural justice and police legitimacy.”
After the Gainesville, Fla., Police Department posted a statement arguing “the president of the United States has no business endorsing or condoning cops being rough with arrestees and suggesting that we should slam their heads onto the car while putting them in,” adding “the president’s remarks today have set modern policing back and erased a lot of the strides we have made to build trust in our community,” the department’s spokesman got permission to tweet his own thoughts:
I’m a cop.
I do not agree with or condone @POTUS remarks today on police brutality.
Those that applauded and cheered should be ashamed.
— Ben Tobias (@GPDBenTobias) July 28, 2017
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) tweeted Saturday, “Trump tells police officers to engage in excessive force and brutality. He is a SICK guy.”
Today, Jeffries told CNN that “everyone understood what he was suggesting,” and “that’s consistent with the insightful language that he used during his presidency and all throughout.”
“I think we have to call it like we see it,” Jeffries said in defending his response. “That’s what we do in Brooklyn to some degree. And when he crosses the line, I’m going to meet fire with fire. But, by the same token, as Democrats in Washington, you know, we’re focused on advancing a better deal, economic agenda, to improve the prospects of the American people. That’s where our focus will be.”
Asked about Trump’s remarks at today’s briefing, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “I believe he was making a joke at the time.”
The president of the Fraternal Order of Police, which endorsed Trump during the campaign, said the president’s comments were taken “too literally.”
“The president knows, just as every cop out there knows, that our society does not, and should not, tolerate the mistreatment or prejudgment of any individual at any point in the criminal justice process,” said Chuck Canterbury.
This story was updated with White House comment at 4:30 p.m. EST