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Trump's Get-Tough Speech to Police Touches Off a Backlash

President Trump speaking on Long Island, N.Y., on Friday. (Screen shot via CNN)

President Trump speaking on Long Island, N.Y., on Friday. (Screen shot via CNN)

The president gave a troubling speech at New York’s Suffolk County Community College on Friday, referring to gang members as “animals” and encouraging police officers to be “rough.” The speech was part of a discussion on how to combat the MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha) gang, which has particularly affected New York’s Long Island community. Trump has long cited the gang’s brutal tactics and its ties to Central America to push his immigration policies.

“Together we’re going to restore safety to our streets and peace to our communities and we’re going to destroy the vile, criminal cartel MS-13 and many other gangs,” Trump said in the speech. Reports CNN:

The speech was laced with violent imagery, with Trump saying MS-13 has rendered the suburb into “blood-stained killing fields.”

“They kidnap. They extort. They rape and they rob,” Trump said. “They stomp on their victims. They beat them with clubs, they slash them with machetes, and they stab them with knives. They have transformed peaceful parks and beautiful quiet neighborhoods into bloodstained killing fields. They’re animals.”

Trump repeatedly pledged in his speech, delivered in front of law enforcement officers at Suffolk County Community College, to have the backs of police and law enforcement.

“We’re going to enforce our laws, protect our borders and support our police like our police have never been supported before,” Trump said.

He also praised the “rough” officers of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and suggested that suspects need not be protected when arrested.

“When you see these thugs thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you see them thrown in, rough. I said, ‘Please don’t be too nice,’ ” Trump told the crowd, mentioning he had seen the prisoners’ heads shielded by officers when the arrested persons were bending to enter police vehicles. “I said, ‘You can take the hand away.’ ”

He also threatened gang members, saying: “We will find you, we will arrest you, we will jail you and we will deport you.” His rhetoric implied that all MS-13 gang members are immigrants. Critics, however, argue that his speech shows how little he understands the nuances of immigration—the centerpiece issue of his presidential campaign.

The gang certainly presents a real problem: In the past 18 months, it has been implicated in 17 murders on Long Island. But Trump’s fixation on the group is perhaps inappropriate. J. Weston Phippen of The Atlantic reports:

MS-13 is indeed a useful monster. It recruits almost exclusively young men and women with Central American roots. It has a well-known, feared name. And its history associates it with illegal immigration. But statistically, Trump’s fixation is hard to justify. If you measure the gang’s threat by recruitment, more recent Department of Justice figures say it has about 6,000 members nationwide (though, I was told several times that counting gang members is an imperfect science). Gang-specific crime is recorded by individual police departments, so no one could tell me if MS-13 has robbed, extorted, or killed more people now than it did five, six, 10 years ago. It also seems to make up only a fraction of deported criminals. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s division that focuses on gangs, Homeland Security Investigations, deported 114,434 individuals last year, according to data given to CNN. MS-13 made up only 429 of those.

Additionally, political leaders in El Salvador have held emergency meetings to discuss what they will do if Trump follows through on his promise of mass deportations, which could further destabilize the country and lead to increased migration to the U.S.—ultimately negating Trump’s deportation policy.

Numerous police departments from around the country have condemned Trump’s speech, and the International Association of Chiefs of Police also put out a statement. The New York Daily News writes:

The International Association of Chiefs of Police issued a statement shortly after the President’s address saying 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,” the statement said.

Trump’s remarks have also been condemned by civil rights groups. According to The Washington Post:

Vanita Gupta, who ran the Justice Department’s civil rights division during the Obama administration, decried the comments and said they ran counter to efforts from local police agencies to repair relationships with their communities.

“Trump’s remarks today are unconscionable,” Gupta, who is now president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in a written statement. “The President of the United States, standing before an audience of law enforcement officials, actively encouraged police violence. His remarks undermine the positive efforts of local law enforcement agencies and communities around the country working to address police misconduct and build community-police trust.”

Emily Wells
​Emily Wells is an Ear to the Ground blogger at Truthdig. As a journalist, she began as a crime reporter at the Pulitzer-winning daily newspaper, The Press-Enterprise...
Emily Wells

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