President Donald Trump is facing widespread criticism from police chiefs across the country following a speech he gave on Friday to police officers in Long Island, New York, that appeared to openly endorse police brutality. Commenting on the need to crack down on gang members, Trump suggested that police officers have license to use excessive force on suspects. The remarks come amid a controversial roundup of undocumented minors in Suffolk County, where Trump spoke, who were detained based on unconfirmed allegations of gang affiliation by local police. Trump painted what some say was an overblown picture of gang violence in the community. Following Trump’s remarks, the Suffolk County Police Department tweeted, “As a department, we do not and will not tolerate roughing up of prisoners.” The International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Police Foundation also criticized Trump’s speech, along with the police chiefs of New York, Boston, New Orleans, Houston, Los Angeles and other cities. We speak with chair of the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board, Maya Wiley, and Graham Weatherspoon, a retired New York police detective.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
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JUAN GONZÁLEZ: President Trump is facing mounting criticism from police chiefs across the country, after he openly endorsed police brutality during a speech to police officers in Brentwood, New York. Trump made the comment Friday during a speech about law enforcement targeting the MS-13 gang.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And 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.” 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?”
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: President Trump’s remarks were met by applause, including police officers, who were just standing just behind him. One criminal defense attorney in Suffolk County, New York, said he will consider using the video in future trials, because it, quote, “exemplifies the mind-set and today’s culture” in law enforcement on Long Island. After the speech, the Suffolk County Police Department tweeted, quote, “As a department, we do not and will not tolerate roughing up of prisoners.”
AMY GOODMAN: The International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Police Foundation have also criticized Trump’s remarks, as did police chiefs in New York, Boston, New Orleans, Houston, Los Angeles and other cities.
For more, we’re joined by two guests. Maya Wiley is with us. She is chair of the New York Civilian Complaint Review Board and senior vice president for social justice at The New School. Graham Weatherspoon is with us. He’s a retired detective with the New York City Police Department. He’s also a board member of the Amadou Diallo Foundation.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now!
GRAHAM WEATHERSPOON: Thank you very much.
MAYA WILEY: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Graham Weatherspoon, let’s begin with you. Your response to what President Trump said?
GRAHAM WEATHERSPOON: I think that we assume that we should be shocked by some of the things we hear coming out of this man’s mouth, but we must say there is a level of consistency with regard to his deprivation of morals and ethics.
Let’s not forget that the chief of police in Suffolk County was sent to federal prison for brutalizing a prisoner, who was alleged to have stolen some material from his vehicle last year. And also, subsequent to that arrest, in Allentown, he was found to have some narcotics in his cell. The fish stinketh from the head.
And leadership is critical with regard to policing. We here in New York, we know what we’ve been through for the last 20-some-odd years. And I was saying to one of the fellows outside, “It’s good to be here, but every time I come here, it’s about something negative,” you know. Jimmy O’Neill spoke against the statements of the president. I’ve known Jimmy a long time, when he — I knew him as a police officer. And this is the kind of leadership that we need in New York. What we went through with Ray Kelly and Bratton was very detrimental to the public at large. We cannot have a president or any head of state in this country, any senator, any congressman, making statements such as this.
The Latino community on Long Island, for years, has been suffering untold abuse at the hands of police officers — day laborers. Why is it that an immigrant is treated the way he’s treated in the United States? Day laborers just waiting to go to work, looking to find a job, were being brutalized, and no regard was being given with regard to what was happening.
President Trump, we know from the Central Park Five case, very racist. He’s an old Democrat. He’s not a Republican. He’s an old Democrat. And for almost 200 years, it was the Democrats that were preventing people from exercising their civil and constitutional rights. So, I’m not surprised. It’s a shame that we are at the level that we’re at. We have dropped below ground level in the last six months.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Maya Wiley, I wanted to ask you, the — if you could speak to not only the remarks that the president made, but he was really speaking to the culture of policing, rather than the rules and regulations and the laws, because, as you well know from all the cases that you deal with at the CCRB in New York, the issue of reforming the culture of policing is really at the heart of changing how communities and their police departments relate to each other.
MAYA WILEY: Oh, that’s absolutely right. So, let’s start with — and I absolutely agree that the comments were shameful, and they’re dangerous, because he’s actually espousing a position that is encouraging police to violate the US Constitution, the laws of New York state, and probably the patrol guide of the Suffolk County Police Department, certainly the patrol guide of the New York City Police Department.
And it does speak to culture, because I think that’s absolutely right to say leadership matters. We’re talking about in institutions of policing where we’re looking for a change in how police are interacting with community, how police are enforcing the law. We certainly want safety in our communities. We want everyone to be safe, and we want everyone to have that kind of security.
What — the comments that Donald Trump has made are absolutely consistent with everything he said on the campaign trail. He has incited violence at his own rallies, but he’s also appointed an attorney general for the Department of Justice who’s taken the position that institutional reform at police departments is not going to be the fundamental agenda of the Department of Justice, after we had at least a Department of Justice that had 25 investigations into police departments across the country, 14 consent decrees or agreements about how the institution of policing needed to be transformed in police departments. And that’s now gone.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re chair of the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board. For those who are not familiar with a body like this, explain what it is that the CCRB does?
MAYA WILEY: I’m happy to. So, one thing to say is we’re one of the oldest civilian oversight bodies in the country, and certainly the largest. And we exist because communities fought for civilian oversight of police misconduct, and so it’s as a result of a long history of organizing communities that produced the Civilian Complaint Review Board. So, what we are are civilians. We do not work for city government. We have 13 board members, five appointed by the mayor, five appointed by the City Council, three appointed by the police commissioner.
And what we do is we receive complaints of police misconduct. If it’s force, if it’s abuse of authority, if it’s, frankly, rudeness, obscenities, racial slurs, bad behavior, we can receive those complaints. We investigate them. We give the opportunity for mediation with the police officers, of course. But then, if we find misconduct, we recommend discipline to the police commissioner in those cases. And one thing that’s unique about us in the country is that in the event that we find a misconduct in a serious case, like an excessive force case or an abuse of authority case, we actually prosecute those cases in the administrative process inside the police department. So, in other words, you have civilian prosecutors prosecuting the case, not prosecutors who work for the police department.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, of course, the creation of the CCRB, for those who don’t know its history, as you’re saying, was not an easy one, because —
MAYA WILEY: No.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Graham, I’m sure you remember that infamous day in 19 — I think it was in 1992, after the City Council had passed the Civilian Complaint Review Board law, that thousands of police officers —
GRAHAM WEATHERSPOON: Police officers, yes.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: — converged around City Hall in a near riot, in the early years of the administration of Mayor Dinkins. And the soon-to-be Mayor Rudy Giuliani —
GRAHAM WEATHERSPOON: Rudy Giuliani.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: — was part of the riot group.
GRAHAM WEATHERSPOON: Fomenting the crowd and —
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Fomenting the crowd to basically engage in violence.
GRAHAM WEATHERSPOON: Yeah.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: These were police — off-duty police officers.
GRAHAM WEATHERSPOON: Right. I’ve done investigations with regard to police officers. I sent a PBA delegate to prison for brutalizing a man, another one for raping a young girl. My job as a detective was to get to the truth on behalf of the victim, not on behalf of the police officer. If you were the police officer — and I told rookies, “If your name comes across my desk and you did it, I’m sending you to prison, because I don’t lose in trial.” And I had no problem sending those officers and seeing to the fact that they did get state time. So, we have to be held — police officers have to be held to a higher level. I can’t say, “I had a bad day, so I hit you in the mouth, I shot you, or I thought you had a — I thought you had a gun.” No, we don’t get paid to think in a tertiary manner. We have to be very precise in our thinking. And I know the union always says, “Oh, he only had a split second.” I’ve had those split-second moments, where people did have guns, were armed, and I did not fire. All right?
There is a level of humanity that has been lost in this country over the last few decades, and it is seriously dropping at this time with this administration. We cannot treat people less than because they come from another country, even this — the attack now — not the attack, but the move on MS-13, 30,000 to 50,000 members in this gang which runs from Central America to Canada. And I know some of the people in Nassau County and Suffolk County said, with what has been said, this is going to stir the pot, because they are going to take advantage of the comments that the president made, as they approach the Latino community: “See, he’s going to get rid of you. He’s going to — he’s going to deport you, too, just as he’s trying to do us.” And foreigners oftentimes do not interact with the police because of the situations in their homelands. And we had this same problem with the Asian community in the Lower East Side years ago. And my partner and I were learning Cantonese just to relate to the people so that the abuses they were suffering, through robberies and assaults, we could deal with it, but they were not reported to the police. And this is going to be the same situation in Brentwood, where the Latino community is not going to come to the police because of their fear of MS-13. And MS-13 is saying, “Well, you see, we’re on your side, because they’re coming after us all as immigrants.”
MAYA WILEY: And we should — this is such an important point, because, one, what we want are — we want police officers to be safe. We want community members to be safe. One of the ways we create safety is that we have better relationships between police and community, the community trusts police, they’re able to come to police. One of the things we’re seeing with the immigration crackdowns is that — and we have police commissioners, 61 who signed a letter in March —
GRAHAM WEATHERSPOON: Right.
MAYA WILEY: — of this year, actually concerned about the role and relationship of the federal administration to policing, demanding sanctuary cities actually participate in ICE raids. And they’re saying, “No, because we need undocumented immigrants to be able to come to us as witnesses, as victims of crime, in order to get the folks who are actually creating the safety problem off the streets.” And we’ve been hearing this very recently from the police commissioner of Houston, who has said many things about how dangerous M —
AMY GOODMAN: MS-13.
GRAHAM WEATHERSPOON: MS-13.
MAYA WILEY: — MS-13 is — which, by the way, is only 1 percent of all gang activity in the US. And most of — Doctors Without Borders has already said that many of the folks who are crossing the border without documentation from Central America are fleeing the violence in their communities.
GRAHAM WEATHERSPOON: Yes.
MAYA WILEY: And only 0.02 percent of youth crossing the border are suspected of gang activity.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to a quote from Thursday. This is Thomas Homan, who’s the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, saying that ICE is now detaining people and putting them into deportation proceedings if they’ve simply been arrested for a crime, not convicted.
THOMAS HOMAN: The prior administration prioritized criminals as national security threats. But the difference is, for those that — criminal aliens that get booked in a county jail, on the prior administration they needed a conviction before we can put a detainer on them and put them in our custody. That’s not necessary anymore. If you’ve been arrested for a serious crime and you’re in a county jail, we’re going to drop a detainer, we’re going to take the person into custody.
AMY GOODMAN: So, this is quite an amazing news conference. You understand, this was the White House press briefing, when the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, speaks. But before she spoke, she brought out Thomas Homan, again, acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement within the Department of Homeland Security, which was headed by General John Kelly, who has now just moved over, today will be the chief of staff of President Trump. And there’s some discussion that it’s possible that President Trump will want Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, to move over to be head of Department of Homeland Security, to get rid of him as attorney general and not anger the Republicans as much if — they expressed their anger last week — by not dissing him as much by moving him to be head of Department of Homeland Security. But having said all that, Graham Weatherspoon, as you listen to this, the first time you hearing the head of [ICE] saying, “We will take — the difference between us,” he said, “and the Obama administration” — he said, “The Obama administration allowed ICE to come in after someone was convicted. We’ll take them after they’re arrested.”
GRAHAM WEATHERSPOON: When I was a rookie 42 years ago, 43 years ago, there was a standing order that if you arrested an individual who was an immigrant for crimes of moral turpitude or a violent crime, we were to notify Immigration and Naturalization Services at that time. They never came. They never showed up. So we stopped calling them. What was the point? They never showed up.
But here, this shocked me, because I hadn’t seen this interview. Under the British law — and our law system comes out of the British law — you are assumed and you are innocent until proven guilty. Not with the Trump administration, especially if you are, again, an immigrant. You’re less than. The rights, the constitutional rights and safeguards, for some reason, don’t fall upon you in the Trump administration. And this is something that the people had better respond to. And our congressmen, our senators need to speak against this. This is unconstitutional. It is illegal.
MAYA WILEY: It’s called due process. We’re supposed to have due process of law.
GRAHAM WEATHERSPOON: Yes.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Maya Wiley, how do you see now, in this period, especially we’re seeing with the Trump administration’s declared war on sanctuary cities — there was an article recently in The New Yorker about how ICE officials are actually targeting areas of the country where they believe that folks are promoting sanctuary cities as a way to — almost as political payback to those elected officials. Your sense of this collision course between —
AMY GOODMAN: Well, and President Trump was explicit about — about doing that.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Right. This collision course that’s occurring now between the cities and some state governments, as in Texas. I was just in Texas, a big rally Friday, outside the Austin state House, of elected officials from around the country who are supporting sanctuary cities.
MAYA WILEY: Yes.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: How that’s going to play out over the next few months?
MAYA WILEY: Well, I think we’re fortunate to live in New York City, where we have both a statute on the books, thanks to the City Council and the mayor of New York, that is very explicit about protecting our residents without regard to documented status, in terms of cooperating with ICE, unless they fall into a narrow category of violent crime that they’ve been convicted of, where there’s an actual finding that they committed the crime alleged — so that’s important — but also that the city is creating access to lawyers for folks who are getting caught up in this crackdown. And I think that’s incredibly important.
You know, when you’re sitting in the position that we are, in terms of civilian oversight, I mean, we want to remember two things. One, there are a lot of good police officers in the New York City Police Department who are doing the right thing, who want better relationships with community, who want people to come forward — and we also want people to come forward — when they’ve had a problem —
GRAHAM WEATHERSPOON: Right.
MAYA WILEY: — with an officer who is not one of those officers. And so, the more we create, in any city — and I think there are — cities are behaving differently, right? Some are, case of the city of Detroit, saying, “We’re not going to participate as a sanctuary city.” And then, cities like New York that are doubling down and saying, “We are going to try to strike the right balance between protecting rights and protecting residents.”
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn back to Donald Trump speaking last week in Brentwood, Long Island.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The laws are so horrendously stacked against us, because, for years and years, they’ve been made to protect the criminal, totally made to protect the criminal, not the officers. You do something wrong, you’re in more jeopardy than they are. These laws are stacked against you. We’re changing those laws. But in the meantime, we need judges for the simplest thing, things that you should be able to do without a judge. But we have to have those judges quickly. In the meantime, we’re trying to change the laws.
AMY GOODMAN: Graham Weatherspoon, as a former police detective here in New York, Donald Trump speaking, the president of the United States, the commander-in-chief?
GRAHAM WEATHERSPOON: This is — this is not a movie. This is reality. This is where we are. This man is sick. He’s a threat to the overall well-being to the country. His comments are treasonous. He’s speaking against the Constitution of the United States. He was sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States and to protect the people of this country. For him to say we want to pass laws, have courts run by individuals who think as he thinks, justice is out of the — would be out the window, if this were to ever happen. I don’t know when the Republican Party is going to stop politicking and start legislating and preserve the nation. This is where we are. It’s not about the politics. They can’t do politics anymore. And we have to demand it. The country has to be saved. This man is dangerous.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to leave it there. I want to thank you both for being with us. We’ve been speaking with Graham Weatherspoon, retired detective, New York Police Department, serves on the board of the Amadou Diallo Foundation — Amadou Diallo gunned down in a hail of 41 police bullets, February 4th — [ 41 ] police bullets, gunned down on February 4th, 1999, in the Bronx. And, Maya Wiley, chair of the New York Civilian Complaint Review Board, thanks so much.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, Democracy in Color. Stay with us.