President Donald Trump’s assertion that police officers use more force when making arrests was meant to be a laughing matter, according to the White House.
“I believe he was making a joke at the time,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told the crowd at Monday’s press briefing.
“I’m a cop. I do not agree with or condone the POTUS’ remarks on police brutality. Those that applauded and cheered should be ashamed,” tweeted Gainesville Police Department’s Ben Tobias.
On Friday Trump asked police officers not to be “too nice” when handling suspects.
“Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over” he said. “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, okay'”
Unlike Trump, many Americans do not take police brutality lightly. A 2016 USA Today/Rock the Vote poll found that millennials (in this case, Americans under 35) are concerned about use of force by police, particularly against minorities. According to USA Today, about a quarter of those polled called law-enforcement concerns “one of the most important issues.”
“More than seven in 10 say police violence against blacks is a problem, up 10 percentage points since [a] January survey,” USA Today reported.
A Morning Consult poll from last July also found that concerns about police violence vary sharply by race. Nearly half of Black respondents said they are worried someone they know will one day be a victim of police brutality compared to just 12 percent of white people who were asked.
The president’s comments were met with criticism from police officers and personnel across the country. New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill called Trump’s remarks “irresponsible” and “unprofessional.” Ben Tobias, a police officer and Gainesville police spokesman, said that anyone who applauded the comments “should be ashamed.”
The White House’s attempt at a justification was met with similar emotions.
Jim Acosta, White House correspondent for CNN, tried to get a better explanation out of Sanders at the end of the briefing.
“Why was the president joking about police brutality, Sarah” Acosta yelled as Sanders was leaving the podium. “Why would the president joke about police brutality That’s not a joking matter.”
Acosta took to Twitter later to recount the incident.
Tried to ask why POTUS was joking about police brutality. SHS did not answer the question
Jim Acosta (@Acosta) July 31, 2017
Trevor Noah, host of “The Daily Show” who also spoke atDiversityInc’s Top 50 event in May, addressed the comments on his show Monday night.
After talking about the president’s bizarre suggestion that someone could fix Chicago’s crime problems in just two days (“All of the problems One guy You sure it wasn’t Batman” Noah joked), Noah then got to the more serious part of the speech.
“And believe it or not, that actually wasn’t the craziest part of the speech,” he said. “It was the part where President Trump talked about police brutality, and how there isn’t enough of it.”
After playing the clip from Trump’s speech Noah said, “We all know Donald Trump could not care less about police brutality.”
“And now,” Noah went on, “many police and law enforcement groups did say that Trump had gone too far. And that, with just a few of those words, he had casually undone community relation effort that they’d been spending years trying to improve. But other people were like, ‘Relax guys! Trump’s gonna Trump!”
“If you don’t like what Trump says, it’s a joke. If you do like it, it’s policy. That’s how it works,” Noah said.
He also pointed out that police brutality isn’t something to joke about.
“A lot of stuff that he says makes people laugh. But there’s a difference between being funny and making a joke,” Noah said.
Police brutality, particularly excessive use of force against minorities, has taken the national spotlight over the last few years. However, Trump’s administration has expressed no interest in investigating the issue.
In April U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered a review of previous police reform agreements to ensure they align with the new administration’s principles, according to a memo published Monday.
“It is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies,” Sessions wrote. “The misdeeds of individual bad actors should not impugn or undermine the legitimate and honorable work that law enforcement officers and agencies perform in keeping American communities safe.”
A Justice Department report released last summer found that Blacks in Baltimore were subjected to traffic stops, arrests and excessive force more frequently than their white counterparts. Like Baltimore, in Chicago the Justice Department found “a pattern or practice of unreasonable force” as a result of “deficiencies in CPD’s training, supervision, accountability, and other systems.”
In June civil rights groups including Black Lives Matter of Chicago filed a lawsuit against the city of Chicago along with its police department. The lawsuit, which also names several individuals as plaintiffs, cites the city’s long, well-documented use of excessive force against minorities at the hands of the Chicago Police Department.