President Donald Trump visited Long Island on Friday to tout his administration’s commitment to cracking down on the MS-13 street gang that authorities have blamed for a recent string of brutal murders.
While those in attendance applauded the speech at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood, critics protested his visit and Suffolk County police rebuffed Trump when he encouraged officers to rough up suspects. The president’s overall anti-gang plans include more funding for federal law enforcement and expanding the wall along the US-Mexico border because the gang, which is headquartered in El Salvador, is mostly made up of and preys upon Hispanic immigrants.
“We will find you, we will arrest you, we will jail you and we will deport you,” Trump said while speaking directly to gang members.
Trump’s visit came four months after U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions visited LI to make similar commitments just weeks after a quadruple murder in a Central Islip park. Federal authorities recently arrested a group of suspected MS-13 gang members in that case, which was one of nearly a dozen attributed to the gang since September. It was the president’s first speech on LI since he held campaign rallies in Bethpage and Patchogue last year.
Trump likened the gang members to animals who “transformed peaceful parks and beautiful quiet neighborhoods into blood-stained killing fields.” The president said his administration will dismantle, decimate and eradicate the gang. He attributed the gang violence to lax borders and “weak political leadership.”
“Like in the Old Wild West, we’re liberating our towns,” Trump said. He promised to “restore law and order on Long Island.”
Both Nassau and Suffolk county police departments have consistently touted historic low crime rates in the months and years before Trump’s visit. Trump also appeared to endorse more police aggression when handling suspects.
“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 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?”
Suffolk police suggested it would not be taking the president’s advice.
“The SCPD has strict rules & procedures relating to the handling of prisoners,” the agency tweeted shortly after the speech. “Violations of those rules are treated extremely seriously.”
“We do not and will not tolerate roughing up of prisoners,” it added.
Trump said he plans to destroy MS-13 by funding another 10,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, in addition to employing hundreds more federal judges and prosecutors.
Trump’s critics countered that the administration is using the crackdown on gangs as a cover to target immigrants, although Sessions previously dismissed concerns that immigrants will be less likely to cooperate with investigators for fear of being deported.
“Let’s be clear, the real target of President Trump’s dragnet is not criminals, it is immigrants,” said Irma Solis, director of the Suffolk chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
“Despite the pageantry of a presidential visit, our local officials must renew their commitment to our immigrant community, who they serve, rather than acting as an instrument of Trump’s deportation agenda,” she said. “In particular, when the Suffolk County Police Department does the bidding of immigration enforcement, they push away people the police need and people who need the police.”