- File photo
“Please don’t be too nice,” the president said, further explaining that officers don’t need to protect arrestees’ heads when assisting them into a police vehicle. “I said, ‘You can take the hand away, OK?’”
Despite the applause and laughter in the room, the line was widely condemned, including by police departments around the country.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declared it a joke in a press briefing. When asked if police brutality is funny, she said, “Not at all. I think you guys are jumping and trying to make something out of nothing. He was simply making a comment, making a joke.”
This is the kind of “joke” Trump told at his rallies when he urged his supporters to be rough with protesters and reporters. When he was a candidate, it was violent demagoguery. But now that he is the president — urging members of the police force to commit violence — it is something far more sinister.
Though the “joke” got all the attention, there’s a more interesting and insidious part of Trump’s Long Island speech, in which he also applauded the use of military weaponry by police departments.
“You know, when you wanted to take over and you used military equipment — and they were saying you couldn’t do it — 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.”
In an annotated version of the speech, the Washington Post claims that Trump is talking about the debate that followed the 2014 police shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Certainly, those cops had military equipment (see Radley Balko’s great book, Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces, to see just how prevalent it is). But that wasn’t Trump’s first day of anything.
Trump can be pretty unintelligible and slippery, but it seems like he is either talking about the protests during Inauguration Day or those in Portland on the day after the election. (The White House did not respond to request for comment by press time.)
A recent lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of four plaintiffs against Washington, D.C.’s, Metropolitan Police Department details both the use of military weapons and the infliction of post-arrest injury on Inauguration Day.
Ultimately, more than 200 people were corralled into a “kettle,” pepper-sprayed and subjected to “explosive devices that release smoke, rubber pellets and a chemical irritant.”
But what happened after they were in custody, according to the lawsuit, is even worse. One of the plaintiffs, Shay Horse, was arrested while working as a photojournalist on Inauguration Day. Charges against him were later dropped.
His complaint reads: “Without warning, Defendant Officer John Doe 150 grabbed Mr. Horse’s testicles and yanked on them. He then put his finger into Mr. Horse’s rectum, through his underwear. As Defendant Officer John Doe 150 pushed his finger into Mr. Horse’s rectum, he ordered Mr. Horse not to flinch.”
The officer, identified as John Doe 150, then did the same thing to another plaintiff, Milo Gonzalez, and others. “Defendant Officer John Doe 150 did not change gloves when he moved from one individual to the next.”
According to the complaint, five to 10 other officers watched this and some of them laughed, just as the officers in Long Island did when Trump told them they didn’t need to protect the heads of prisoners.
Despite Trump’s attempt to take credit for it, none of this behavior is new. In Baltimore, Freddie Gray died after being pushed roughly into a police vehicle, and the Department of Justice report on the city’s police department shows how African-Americans, in particular, have been subjected to such degrading treatment for years.
It is new for the president of the United States to encourage this behavior in such a blatant way. And it doesn’t work.
“I’m completely distrustful of anyone in a uniform, any kind of law enforcement person,” said Emily Lagesse, another plaintiff who had never been arrested or in any trouble before. “That is probably like ‘no kidding’ to a lot of people of color, but it is a huge thing for me to feel less safe around people who are supposed to be keeping me safe.”