Rob Burgess

President Donald Trump endorsed police brutality in front of a clapping, laughing, cheering crowd of law enforcement officers July 28 in Brentwood, New York.

“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. “Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put the 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?’”

As if that weren’t bad enough, Trump didn’t even think of this himself. As Slate’s Josh Levin pointed out July 28, Trump (who loves TV) stole this verbatim from an old Jerry Seinfeld stand-up bit, which was immortalized in “Seinfeld” Season 6, Episode 2, “The Big Salad.”

“How come when the police catch some really bad criminal or something they put him in the handcuffs, they hit him with the baton, they put the choke hold on him, then they’re always careful they don’t want him to hurt his head when they’re putting him in the back of the patrol car? ‘Watch your head, watch your head. Don’t hit that metal edge there. ... That really hurts,’” Seinfeld says in the episode’s final monologue.

Police officers, professional organizations and departments across the country pushed back forcefully on the president’s suggestion:

• “The Suffolk County Police Department has strict rules & procedures relating to the handling of prisoners. Violations of those rules are treated extremely seriously. ... As a department, we do not and will not tolerate roughing up of prisoners.” — SCPD (where Trump delivered his speech), Twitter, July 28.

• “I’m a cop. I do not agree with or condone [Trump’s] remarks today on police brutality. Those that applauded and cheered should be ashamed.” — Gainsville Police Department spokesperson Ben Tobias, Twitter, July 28.

• “Managing use of force is one of the most difficult challenges faced by law enforcement agencies. The ability of law enforcement officers to enforce the law, protect the public, and guard their own safety, the safety of innocent bystanders, and even those suspected or apprehended for criminal activity is very challenging. For these reasons, law enforcement agencies develop policies and procedures, as well as conduct extensive training, to ensure that any use of force is carefully applied and objectively reasonable considering the situation confronted by the officers. 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.” — International Association of Chiefs of Police statement, July 28.

• “The New York City Police Department’s training and policies relating to the use of force only allow for measures that are reasonable and necessary under any circumstances, including the arrest and transportation of prisoners. To suggest that police officers apply any standard in the use of force other than what is reasonable and necessary is irresponsible, unprofessional and sends the wrong message to law enforcement as well as the public.” — Statement to The Huffington Post, July 29.

The timing was less than ideal given Trump’s own swirling legal problems.

“Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III began using a grand jury in federal court in Washington several weeks ago as part of his investigation of possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign, according to two people familiar with the inquiry,” reported The Washington Post’s Carol D. Leonning, Sari Horwitz and Matt Zapotosky on Thursday.

And the grand jury is moving quickly.

“[Mueller] has issued subpoenas from a Washington-based grand jury in recent weeks, according to several lawyers involved in the case,” reported The New York Times’ Matt Apuzzo on Thursday.

One wonders how Trump’s stance on prisoner treatment will evolve if those close to him start being the ones in handcuffs.

Rob Burgess, Tribune city editor, may be reached at


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