In a speech Friday to law enforcement officers, President Donald Trump urged them to not be “too nice” to suspected criminals and gang members, and appeared to endorse certain types of abuse by police and immigration agents.
The address, in Brentwood, New York, was ostensibly meant to address the violence propagated by the MS13 gang. But, amid repeated raucous cheering and “thank yous” from the officers in attendance, Trump veered into several extended monologues on the value of being “tough.”
Toward the end of his remarks, the President gave a chilling example of what he meant.
“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,” he said, referring to the arrest of alleged gang members. “I said, please don’t be too nice.”
“When you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over,” he mimicked an officer putting a handcuffed person in the back of a squad car, the officer’s hand over the suspect’s head. “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?” he concluded, to laughter, and then loud applause.
That sentiment characterized much of the red meat speech, in which Trump contrasted himself frequently to his predecessor.
“We have your backs 100 percent,” Trump said near the beginning of his remarks. “Not like the old days.”
Trump mentioned an executive order from former President Barack Obama — signed after police clashed with protesters in Ferguson, Missouri — meant to control the flow of military weaponry to local police forces.
“When you want to take over used military equipment, they were saying you couldn’t do it,” Trump said. “You know what I said? That was my first day: You can do it. In fact, that stuff is disappearing so fast, we have none left. You guys know — you really knew how to get that.”
And the President praised acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Tom Homan for being “a tough guy” — “I said, that’s what I’m looking for. That’s exactly what I was looking for” — and applied the same praise to ICE agents: “Rough guys. They’re rough,” he said.
Trump’s description of the gang members on ICE’s radar was practically apocalyptic.
“One by one, we are liberating our American towns,” he said, referring to the deportation of gang members. “Can you believe that I’m saying that? I’m talking about liberating our towns. Like you’d see in a movie. They’re liberating the town. Like in the old wild west, right? We’re liberating our towns. I never thought I’d be standing up here talking about liberating the towns on Long Island where I grew up. But that’s what you’re doing.”
Worse than the gang activity in Long Island, he said, was Chicago. He employed his audience to make the point.
“Do you see what’s happening there? Do we agree? Is there something —” he began, waiting for applause in agreement
He told the story of a “really respected officer, police officer” in Chicago who volunteered as a motorcycle escort for his campaign.
“It’s a problem that can be straightened out,” Trump recalled the officer telling him, presumably a reference to violent crime in the city. “If you gave me the authority, a couple days […] We know all the bad ones.”
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