White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Monday that President Trump was likely joking last week when he appeared to advise law enforcement officials not to worry about injuring suspects.
“I believe he was making a joke at the time,” Sanders told reporters during a press briefing.
During a trip to Long Island last week, Trump made a speech to law enforcement, where he appeared to encourage police to act with increased violence when dealing with offenders. The president told officers not to worry about suspects hitting their heads while lowering them into police cars during a speech about cracking down on the street gang MS-13.
“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. "Don’t hit their head, and they just killed somebody — don’t hit their head ... I said, you can take the hand away, okay?” Trump continued.
"I have to tell you… the laws are so horrendously stacked against us, because for years and years, they've been made to protect the criminal. Totally made to protect the criminal. Not the officers. You do something wrong, you're in more jeopardy than they are," Trump said.
Trump’s comments incited a chain reaction from police departments across the U.S. who denounced the president's seemingly pro-violence rhetoric.
On Sunday afternoon, chief of the Montgomery County Police Department and president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association Tom Manger released a statement saying, “While any elected official can give their views on how police should do their jobs, it is the actions of police officers that speak directly to who we are.”
He noted the growing accountability measures in place on officers and the decreased use of force by police officers.
“Every police officer that I’ve spoken with in the last two days was dismayed by the president’s words,” he added.
The New York Police Department (NYPD) issued a statement Saturday, saying the department’s training and policies only allows measures that are “reasonable” and “necessary.”
“To suggest that police officers apply any standard in the use of force other than what is reasonable and necessary is irresponsible, unprofessional, and sends the wrong message to law enforcement as well as the public,” said NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill.
The Gainesville Police Department said on its Facebook account Friday that Trump’s comments “seem to endorse...police brutality” and lambasted him for “setting modern policing back” and “erasing a lot of strides [they] have made to build trust in [their] community.” The department also stressed that it “is possible to enforce laws and arrest very bad folks and do it with respect.”
Harry Houck, a retired NYPD detective, took the president’s remarks much more lightly.
“They took it as a joke. And so did I,” he said while on CNN’s “New Day” on Monday morning. “I don’t think any police officer out there in the right frame of mind would take that as a way of condoning that kind of activity. ” Like Sanders, he said it was just Trump “trying to get a laugh.”
According to The Associated Press, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has been a proponent of supporting police members as part of his tough-on-crime plans, is set to speak on Tuesday to a group of black law enforcement officials in Atlanta. Sessions has not made any mention of Trump’s contentious remarks thus far, and it remains uncertain as to whether he will address them in his speech.
Trump has been a longtime proponent of bolstering police regulations to crack down on gangs like the M-13, and reduce crime.