President Donald Trump was 'making a joke' when he gave police the green light to engage in street justice against murder suspects, the White House says.
'It wasn't a directive, it was a joke. There's a very big difference,' the president's spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said.
The president gave law enforcement officers permission to be 'rough' with 'thugs' at an event on Friday in Long Island. He was immediately accused of endorsing police brutality.
Huckabee Sanders claimed Monday that the president was 'making a joke at the time,' inciting a new round of charges against the Republican administration.
President Donald Trump was 'making a joke' when he gave police the green light to engage in street justice against murder suspects, the White House says
'It wasn't a directive, it was a joke. There's a very big difference,' the president's spokeswoman, Sarah Hucakbee Sanders, said
At her briefing on Tuesday the topic came back up and Huckabee Sanders doubled down on her previous explanation.
'I think you guys are jumping, trying to make something out of nothing, he was simply making a comment, making a joke and it was nothing more than that,' she said.
Reporters asked the Trump spokeswoman about the issue several times during her briefing and would not commit to asking the president if he regretted his remarks or thought an apology was warranted.
'I think the president supports our law enforcement and he supports the protection of the citizens of this country and he wants to empower our law enforcement to do their job. I don't think there's any more beyond that,' she said the first time.
She told a journalist who followed up, 'I'll let you know if I do.'
Trump made the comments during a speech at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood, New York, close to where the ultra-violent street gang MS-13 has committed a string of gruesome murders, including the massacre of four young men in April in a Central Islip park.
'When you see these thugs being thrown into the back of the paddy wagon, you just see them thrown in, rough, I said, "Please don't be too nice," ' Trump said to laughter.
'Like when you guys put somebody in the car, and you're protecting their head, you know the way you put you're their hand over? Like don't hit their head, and they just killed somebody? Don't hit their head?'
To cheers and applause, the president told law enforcement officers, 'I said, "You can take the hand away, OK?" '
The Suffolk County Police Department gave Trump a brush back on Twitter after the speech.
'The SCPD has strict rules & procedures relating to the handling of prisoners. Violations of those rules are treated extremely seriously,' the police force tweeted.
'As a department, we do not and will not tolerate roughing up of prisoners.'
Officers caught engaging in the behavior Trump described could be charged with battery.
Jeffery Robinson, deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union, said that 'by encouraging police to dole out extra pain at will, the president is urging a kind of lawlessness that already imperils the health and lives of people of color at shameful rates.'
'Innocent until proven guilty? Our president would rather not bother with that, expanding the role of the police officer to include judge, jury, and executioner,' he added.
The Rev. Al Sharpton said Trump's comments were 'reprehensible' and called them 'a reckless disregard for the law' that 'set a tone that is dangerous and biased in this country.'
After his speech he Suffolk County Police Department gave Trump a brush back on Twitter
Trump came to Long Island on Friday to give his administration's full support to police officers battling MS-13.
'These are animals,' Trump said of gang that brutalizes its victims before it kills them.
The president has made cracking down on MS-13, also called Mara Salvatrucha, a top priority of his administration.
The gang, which is believed to have originated in immigrant communities in Los Angeles in the 1980s and then entrenched itself in Central America when its leaders were deported, is infamous for its violent tactics, including torturing victims and hacking them with machetes.
'They kidnap. They extort. They rape and they rob. They prey on children. They shouldn't be here. They stop on their victims. They beat them with clubs. They slash with machetes, and they stab them knives,' Trump said on Friday.
The president gave police officers permission to be 'rough' with members of the gang - endorsing police brutality when it comes to handling 'thugs' on Friday
The president said the gang has 'transformed peaceful parts and beautiful, quiet neighborhoods into blood stained killing fields.
'They're animals,' he repeated. 'We cannot