The White House on Monday dismissed widespread criticism of President Donald Trump’s comments last week that seemed to advocate rougher treatment of arrested suspects.
"I believe he was making a joke at the time," press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters.
Trump spoke Friday at Suffolk County Community College in New York on the federal government’s crackdown on the MS-13 gang. In a speech that resembled many of his campaign rallies, Trump told a crowd of police officers to be rougher with suspects.
"When you see these towns and when you see these thugs being thrown into the paddy wagon, you just see them thrown in. Rough, I said. Please don’t be too nice," Trump said. "Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know? The way you put their hand over. 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?’”
The crowd of law enforcement officials cheered and applauded the president’s remarks, but police departments quickly condemned the comments over the weekend.
"The SCPD has strict rules & procedures relating to the handling of prisoners. Violations of those rules are treated extremely seriously," the Suffolk County Police Department tweeted Friday. "As a department, we do not and will not tolerate roughing up of prisoners."
Sanders did not respond a question from a reporter at the end of Monday’s briefing asking why the president thought it was acceptable to joke about police behavior toward suspects, an issue that entered the national consciousness after a string of officer-involved shootings in recent years.