Donald Trump, once again, stirred up controversy in the media after making a comment to an audience of law enforcement officers in Long Island, New York last Friday that appears to condone police brutality.
“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, and I said, ‘Please don’t be too nice,’” Trump said to a laughing and applauding crowd, advising that police officers should not be gentle when arresting someone who had committed a crime, such as not protecting their head when placing them in a police vehicle.
“I believe he was making a joke at the time,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House press secretary, said to reporters in response of the disapproval. And while the specific comments made by Trump seem to have been delivered in a light manner, no aspect of police brutality is a joke.
And while the specific comments made by Trump seem to have been delivered in a light manner, no aspect of police brutality is a joke.
Police brutality itself is nothing that is new nor unknown to our society; and as a response to the unjust police brutality plaguing our nation, demonstrations in cities from Ferguson to Baltimore, led by the exemplary work of the Black Lives Matter movement, made police reform a focus on the national agenda. Bipartisan consensus on the need to improve law enforcement facilities, such as shutting down private-owned prisons and mandating body cameras on policemen emerged in efforts to repair community-police relations that had been diminished as a result of the unjustifiable murders of black citizens throughout the country.
Donald Trump’s approach to police brutality is not only vile, but dangerous. To those ever present policemen in the workforce who have or would utilize their position as a way to abuse citizens, the presidential endorsement serves as a “green light to trample basic rights and mock those who follow the laws.” For Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black male from Baltimore who died from a spinal injury in police custody, being handled by policemen conscientiously along with overall police reform could have saved his life as well as many others. Trump “joking” about the same circumstances is in no way humorous and should not be overlooked.
Pursuing this further, while the White House administration claims that Trump’s ideas were merely jokes, the current administration’s policies for police reform suggests otherwise. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump both believe that the current laws regarding law enforcement are designed in favor of the arrestees and not the officers, and have made it clear that they intend to change that. Sessions has previously derided the works of the Obama administration in reviewing police misconduct and constructing consent agreements to police reform within police departments. He has even claimed that federal civil rights investigations of police departments affect the performance of police officers negatively, sympathizing in regards to legislation with police officers over victims of police brutality and administered for the Justice Department to pull back from pattern investigations of abuses in police departments.
Police departments across the country were quick to condemn Trump’s ‘joking’ words, including the Suffolk County police department, whom Trump’s audience was made up of. “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 official Twitter account for the department tweeted following the comments made by the president.
The SCPD has strict rules & procedures relating to the handling of prisoners. Violations of those rules are treated extremely seriously.
— Suffolk County PD (@SCPDHq) July 28, 2017
Trump’s remarks, whether intentional or not, advocate for a further separation between police officers and community members and undermines the work to reform policing by social organizations and law enforcement officers.