In a dark, fiery speech rife with graphic descriptions of violence and gore, Donald Trump encouraged police to be rougher on suspects while speaking at Long Island’s Suffolk Community College on Friday.
His speech centered around “law and order” and the violent MS-13 gang, whose numbers have grown in Long Island in recent years. “They kidnap. They extort. They rape and they rob. They stomp on their victims,” he said. “They beat them with clubs, they slash them with machetes, and they stab them with knives. They have transformed peaceful parks and beautiful quiet neighborhoods into bloodstained killing fields. They’re animals.”
“When you see these towns, and you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you see ‘em thrown in, rough. I said, ‘Please don’t be too nice,’” he said. “Like when you guys put somebody in the car, when you’re protecting their head—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, okay.’” Just as chilling, his words were met with applause and cheers.
While the MS-13 gang’s presence is increasing in Long Island, Trump’s rhetoric—which ties into a greater narrative that casts all undocumented immigrants as rapists and criminals—is only going to deepen divides and stoke fear. His speech, of course, does not mention the fact that the gang formed in Los Angeles as a result of the systematic disenfranchisement of El Salvadorians fleeing civil war in the ’80s, and flawed US immigration and deportation policies in the ’90s. It also glosses over the fact that scores of undocumented immigrants from Central America resettle in America to flee the very gang violence and unrest he describes.
Activists and immigrants say that Trump’s rhetoric and anti-immigration policies are only making gangs stronger. Zeke Johnson, senior director of programs at Amnesty International USA, called Trump’s speech “inflammatory and hateful.” In a statement he wrote, “Far from being the root of violence, many people seeking asylum at the southern border are trying to escape the very gangs that President Trump spoke of today. Everybody wants to live free from fear, but that can’t be done when our leaders vilify our families, neighbors and friends as criminals based solely on where they’re from. Today’s speech leaves everyone at risk.”
The crackdown on all undocumented immigrants means that victims don’t feel safe reporting crimes to police for fear of deportation. “It’s not like before, where... they (the gang) were more hidden,” one undocumented woman, Margarita, told CNN. She fled violence from El Salvador, but after MS-13 attacked her son months after he moved to America, she is more afraid here. “People can get deported, so they don’t call the police. So [MS-13] feel more free.”
Walter Barrientos, Long Island coordinator with immigrant advocacy group Make the Road, told CNN that Trump’s rhetoric is “emboldening” MS-13, saying, “[T]his gives them the opportunity to tell immigrants, ‘What are you gonna do? Are you going to report us? They’re deporting other innocent people ... (so) they’re going to associate you with us by you coming forward.”
Even one MS-13 gang member told CNN that “They [MS-13] feel like they can do whatever they want, ‘cause Trump himself has made everybody fear.”
Video cut by Jezebel video producer Jennifer Perry.