President urges police to be ‘rough’ on gangs
President tells N.Y. recruits: ‘Don’t be too nice’
BRENTWOOD, N.Y. — President Donald Trump on Friday called for police and immigration officials to be “rough” with suspected gang members in order to rid the country of “animals” he said are terrorizing communities.
“Please don’t be too nice,” Trump told police recruits at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood, a heavily Hispanic suburb of New York. “Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know the way you put their hand so they don’t hit their head and they’ve just killed somebody … you can take that hand away.”
He implied that he was satisfied with rough handling of suspects by the police.
“When you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon — you just see them thrown in, rough,” he said.
Scoffing at calls for political correctness, Trump also renewed his pledges to build a wall along the Mexican border. He blamed the Obama administration for admitting criminals into the United States.
“The previous administration enacted an open-door policy to illegal immigrants from Central America,” he said. “As a result MS-13 surged into the country and scoured, just absolutely destroyed, so much in front of it.”
He was referring to Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, a primarily Salvadoran gang that started in Los Angeles in the 1980s and has spread into other communities. The gang is blamed for 17 killings in Long Island since the beginning of last year.
Trump’s attorney general, meanwhile, was in El Salvador, promoting a similarly tough message against gang violence.
“Few communities have suffered worse at the hand of these MS-13 thugs than the people of Long Island,” Trump told the recruits. “They have transformed peaceful parks and beautiful quiet neighborhoods into bloodstained killing fields. They are animals.”
In often graphic detail, Trump spoke of gangs’ cruelty to victims, describing how “they like to knife them and cut them and watch them die slowly.”
The president’s comments come on the heels of a speech he gave earlier this week in Youngstown, Ohio, in which he also appeared to be endorsing extrajudicial violence by law enforcement.
Trump’s speech in Long Island drew strong reactions.
“It’s clear that the way he views things is simple: If you’re a person of color, then police can beat you, slam you to the ground, not have any respect for your rights as a human,” said Jeff Robinson, a deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union.
“It’s outrageous. … If you’re a person of color in this country, there’s every reason to fear for your life, when you hear these comments from a president,” Robinson added.
Hundreds of demonstrators protested outside the community college, located in Brentwood, a suburb of 60,000 people, two-thirds of them Hispanic. The protesters complained that Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and tactics have terrorized the community nearly as much as the gangs.
“Trump is preparing for a massive deportation, and he is justifying this by using our Hispanic community in Brentwood as an excuse to help us against MS-13,” said Javier Guzman, a 50-year-old activist who was among the protesters.
Some Hispanic immigrants, however, were heartened by Trump’s campaign against the gangs.
“Everybody is afraid of the gangs, the murders and the killings. Trump will make us feel safer. He is only going after the illegal immigrants and criminals,” businessman Reynaldo Caiaffa, 65, said earlier this week.
Brentwood has been terrorized by a string of murders of teens and young adults. Two girls, ages 15 and 16, were killed with machetes in September near an elementary school. In April, four young men were lured into a park and killed in adjoining Central Islip.
The MS-13 gang has recruited from the ranks of immigrant teenagers from Central America, many of whom were sent to live with relatives in the U.S. because it had become too dangerous for them in their home countries.
These unaccompanied minors make up most of the people arrested for gang violence, as well as the majority of the victims. Few victims have been non-Hispanic.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions was in El Salvador, where MS-13 and rival groups now control entire towns, rape girls and young women, and massacre students, bus drivers and merchants who refuse to pay extortion and kill competitors.
One purpose of Sessions’ trip was to learn more about how MS-13’s activities in El Salvador affect crime in the U.S.
“It is in a very expansive mode, and we need to slam the door on that,” Sessions said in an interview at the headquarters of El Salvador’s national police force, where he met law enforcement officials to talk about quashing the violent transnational gang.
“We need to stop them in their tracks and focus on this dangerous group,” he said.
President Donald Trump speaks to law enforcement officials about the street gang MS-13 on Friday in Brentwood, N.Y.