Trump Remarks Eclipse Sessions' Talk Before Black Law Enforcement Group

Aug 2, 2017
Originally published on August 2, 2017 11:57 am

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday attended a conference for black law enforcement officials and promoted his new crime-fighting agenda. Much of the attention, however, went to some recent comments by President Trump that officers should not to be "too nice" to suspects in custody.

When Sessions walked into the hotel ballroom in Atlanta, the reception was professional and polite. Sessions spoke to members of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and lamented the damage crime does to struggling neighborhoods.

"That's not right," Sessions said. "Regardless of wealth or race, every American deserves to live without the constant fear of violence into their lives."

The attorney general then asked the black law enforcement association to partner with him to fight this crime and build community trust.

"We have your back. You have our thanks. God bless you all," Sessions said.

Many in the audience stood up and applauded Sessions' remarks. The reception, however, was a little less warm when Sessions headed into a closed-door discussion with leaders of the organization because of comments Trump made last week to law enforcement officers in Long Island, N.Y.

"Please don't be too nice," Trump said. "Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you're protecting their head. 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, OK."

"It was heard around the country by the very communities that we're trying to build relationships with, and I believe it had an impact," said association President Perry Tarrant, who spoke at a news conference after meeting with Sessions.

Tarrant's group confronted the attorney general about the president's off-the-cuff statement — saying it goes against what the group stands for: fair and equal treatment.

"We have to take this opportunity to underscore the value of civil rights, and the requirement of all law enforcement to behave professionally and protect everyone's civil rights, whether they're in custody or not," Tarrant said.

The Department of Justice wouldn't comment about the closed-door meeting. The White House has said the president's remark was a joke.

Tarrant says the attorney general was receptive to his group's concerns. Members of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives say they're open to working with the Trump administration — as long as it treats all people in the correct way.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

National law enforcement officials have had an awkward few days. You see, they're part of President Trump's administration. And last week in a speech, the president asked police to be a little rougher with criminal suspects. The acting head of the Drug Enforcement Administration sent a memo saying the president condoned misconduct and the DEA does not, saying agents should, quote, "act honorably." The same episode loomed over a speech yesterday by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to black law enforcement officials. Here's Stephannie Stokes from our member station WABE in Atlanta.

STEPHANNIE STOKES, BYLINE: When Attorney General Jeff Sessions walked into the Atlanta hotel ballroom, the reception was professional, polite. Sessions spoke to members of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and lamented the damage crime does to struggling neighborhoods.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEFF SESSIONS: So that's not right. Regardless of wealth or race, every American deserves to live without the constant fear of violence into their lives.

STOKES: The attorney general then asked the association to partner with him, to fight this crime and build community trust.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SESSIONS: We have your back. You have our thanks. God bless you all.

STOKES: Many in the audience stood up and applauded Sessions' remarks. But the reception was a little less warm when Sessions headed into a closed-door discussion with leaders of the organization because of President Trump's comments last week to law enforcement officers in Long Island.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: 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 their hand over - like, don't hit their head. And they've just killed somebody. Don't hit their head. I said you could take the hand away, OK?

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PERRY TARRANT: It was heard around the country by the very communities that we're trying to build relationships with. And I believe it had an impact.

STOKES: That's association President Perry Tarrant, speaking in a press conference after meeting with Sessions. His group confronted the attorney general about the president's off-the-cuff statement. He says it goes against what they stand for - fair and equal treatment.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

TARRANT: So we have to take this opportunity to underscore the value of civil rights and the requirement of all law enforcement to behave professionally and protect everyone's civil rights, whether they're in custody or not.

STOKES: A Department of Justice spokesperson wouldn't comment about the closed-door meeting. The White House has said the president's remark was a joke. But Tarrant says the attorney general was receptive to his group's concerns. And members of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives say they're open to working with the Trump administration, so long as it treats all people in the correct way. For NPR News, I'm Stephannie Stokes in Atlanta. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.