President Donald Trump’s comment on Friday that appeared to endorse police brutality was just a “joke,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said during a press briefing on Monday. The comments had sparked widespread condemnation from police departments across the country, but Sanders brushed off a question about whether or not Trump was serious.
When asked if Trump was joking or if he checked his statements out with Attorney General Jeff Sessions or the International Association of Police Chiefs before he made them.
“I believe he was making a joke at the time,” Sanders replied. She then called on another reporter to ask a new question before she could be given a follow-up.
On July 28, Trump delivered a fresh “law and order” speech in Ronkonkoma, New York, where he praised ICE officers who were “rough” and suggested that police officers not protect suspects’ heads when they are arrested.
“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 told the crowd of police officers. “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, okay?”
Those comments sparked condemnation from police departments across the country, including Suffolk County, where the speech was delivered.
“The SCPD has strict rules & procedures relating to the handling of prisoners. Violations of those rules are treated extremely seriously,” the department tweeted. “As a department, we do not and will not tolerate roughing up of prisoners.”
Ben Tobias, a spokesman for the Gainesville, Florida police department, had a response for the president that went viral. “I’m a cop. I do not agree with or condone @POTUS remarks today on police brutality,” Tobias wrote. “Those that applauded and cheered should be ashamed.”
Suffolk County Police are also working under Justice Department oversight, CNN notes. In December 2013, a 2008 hate crime against an Ecuadorian immigrant led to local legislators unanimously approving a deal to let the federal agency oversee the department.
Sanders’ comment that Trump’s words were a “joke” was the first time the administration explained what the president meant.