President Donald Trump on Friday encouraged authorities to rough up undocumented immigrants suspected of committing crimes as part of a speech to highlight his administration's efforts to crack down on gang members and illegal immigration.
“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, I said, 'Please don't be too nice,'" Trump said to cheers and applause. “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?'"
Trump made the comments while speaking in Long Island to law enforcement officials. He and his administration have been pointing to a streak of violence at the hands of MS-13 gang members as justification for cracking down on illegal immigration — even though federal data show the link is tenuous, at best.
In a tweet the Suffolk County Police Department, which covers the area where Trump gave his speech, also said they do not tolerate "roughing up of prisoners."
Jeffery Robinson, the ACLU’s deputy legal director, said Trump sent police officers the wrong message by telling them he will back them 100% if they gratuitously hurt suspected criminals.
“By encouraging police to dole out extra pain at will, the president is urging a kind of lawlessness that already imperils the health and lives of people of color at shameful rates,” Robinson said in a statement. “We know what happened to Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, and too many others who lost their lives only because they were under suspicion. We must increase the trust between police and civilians, not decimate it.”
Janai Nelson, associate director-counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said the remarks rise to a new level of danger.
“No person, especially those who have only been accused of a crime, should be abused by those entrusted to uphold the law,” Nelson said in a statement. “The President’s mocking of the treatment of arrestees as they are escorted into a police vehicle is particularly reprehensible in light of the police in-custody death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore.”
Trump began to focus on the transnational gang after a series of killings earlier this year in Suffolk County, Long Island. In September, two girls were found beaten to death, and in April, the badly beaten bodies of four men were also found in a wooded area, with MS-13 members being the suspected culprits.
"They have transformed peaceful parks and beautiful, quiet neighborhoods into blood-stained killing fields,” Trump said. “They're animals. We cannot tolerate, as a society, the spilling of innocent, young, wonderful, vibrant people, sons and daughters, even husbands and wives."
He also made a connection between unaccompanied minors from Central America and MS-13, saying the increase in the kids coming to the US lead to an increase in the gang's ranks.
"New arrivals came in, and they were all made recruits of each other. And they fought with each other. And then they fought outside of each other, and it got worse and worse," Trump said. "In the three years before I took office, more than 150,000 unaccompanied alien minors arrived at the border and were released all throughout our country into United States communities."
However, an analysis by the Washington Office on Latin America found that MS-13's membership makes up less than 1% of all criminally active gang members in the US and Puerto Rico. The organization also said that Attorney General Jeff Sessions' claim that MS-13 gang membership has increased to 10,000 members is the same estimate the FBI has been using since 2006.
Trump also blamed the spread of MS-13 in part to so-called sanctuary cities and “pathetic mayors” who won't allow local police to work with federal immigration officials.
"It is the policy of this administration to dismantle, decimate, and eradicate MS-13,” Trump said. "We will find you. We will arrest you. We will jail you, and we will deport you."