Monday, July 23, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Encouraging excessive police force is no joking matter

The inherent difference between being a TV celebrity and the leader of the free world continues to elude President Donald Trump. Delivering a speech in front of a large contingent of law enforcement officers in Suffolk County, N.Y., on Friday, Trump breezily joked — one assumes — about police roughing up suspects in custody. Maybe a late-night comedian can get away with such cheap one-liners, but the president of the United States needs to be better than that. New White House chief of staff John Kelly, the sober-minded, retired four-star Marine Corps general, should make that clear to him.

While praising local and federal officers for their work in pursuing members of the treacherous MS-13 street gang, Trump suggested cops need not be "too nice'' when throwing suspects in "the back of a paddy wagon.'' Describing how officers often use their hands to protect someone in handcuffs from banging their head while getting in a car, Trump said, "You can take the hand away, okay.''

Trump needs to understand that his words matter. Always. When the topic is as volatile as police brutality, the president cannot risk having his meaning misconstrued for the sake of a sound bite. "It doesn't matter if it was meant to be a casual, off-the-cuff Trump-ism,'' said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. "Comments about a cop using force should never be made casually.''

The amount of violence perpetrated by street gangs in Suffolk County may have made a get-tough-on-crime speech appropriate for Trump, but the locale also made his joke even more inappropriate. Nine months ago, the former chief of the Suffolk County Police Department was sentenced to nearly four years in prison for beating up a handcuffed suspect and then trying to cover up the crime. The suspect had broken into the chief's vehicle and stolen a bag filled with sex toys and pornography.

From Los Angeles to New York, police departments have issued official statements in recent days pushing back against Trump's words. The St. Petersburg Police Department sent out a tweet on Saturday emphasizing its policy of treating everyone with dignity. Police Chief Tony Holloway said officers have worked hard to earn the trust of St. Petersburg residents, and he felt the need to reiterate that with the tweet. "We shouldn't have to tell people that we're not going to tolerate that kind of behavior but unfortunately that perception does exist in the minds of some,'' Holloway said. "I've already spoken to some ministers in the community, who know how hard we've worked, and they were glad we put the statement out just so people knew where we stood.''

These are highly charged times on American streets. It is possible to be concerned both with the number of well-known cases of excessive force around the nation, as well as the subsequent public skepticism that threatens the safety of the overwhelming number of police officers honorably doing their jobs. "These type of comments do not help the current environment,'' Gualtieri said. "It does nothing to build trust and confidence in law enforcement.''

This isn't the first time Trump has entertained the notion of physical threats or violence while in front of a large audience. While on the campaign trail in 2016, he often endorsed the idea of roughing up hecklers or protesters, and has repeatedly called journalists the enemy of the people. As a candidate, his words were reckless and irresponsible. As the president, that type of talk is utterly unacceptable.

Bringing discipline, professionalism and seriousness of purpose to the words coming from the White House is one of the many jobs the new chief of staff Kelly has before him. His role, within hours of his swearing in, in the removal of the profane Anthony Scaramucci from his position as communications director is a hopeful sign. More responsible talk and less tweeting from the president himself would be another.

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Editorial: NFL calls wise time-out on disciplining protests

The National Football League kept an embarrassing situation from becoming even worse by shelving its new policy clamping down on players who refuse to stand for the national anthem.The league announced late Thursday it would suspend the 2-month old p...
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Editorial: Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s responsible budget

Editorial: Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s responsible budget

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Published: 07/19/18
Updated: 07/20/18

IRS making ‘dark money’ darker

Under a perverse interpretation of federal law, tax-exempt nonprofit organizations supposedly devoted to "social welfare" can spend large amounts of money to influence elections without publicly disclosing the identities of their donors. But instead ...
Published: 07/19/18
Updated: 07/20/18
Editorial: Ferry is fun but should pay for itself in long run

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Updated: 07/20/18
Editorial: Scott should order investigation of concealed weapons permitting

Editorial: Scott should order investigation of concealed weapons permitting

To his credit, Gov. Rick Scott says he is considering requests to order an independent investigation of how Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam’s office screens applications for concealed weapon permits. It’s a reasonable request, and the governor h...
Published: 07/18/18
Editorial: Algae blooms, toll woes and beach battles -- Florida’s fouled up summer

Editorial: Algae blooms, toll woes and beach battles -- Florida’s fouled up summer

July in Florida. The height of summer tourist season. Rental cars clog the highways and tourists crowd the beaches, motels and all-you-can-eat shrimp joints. Many of our neighbors are off to North Carolina or somewhere cooler. So it’s an awfully inco...
Published: 07/17/18
Updated: 07/20/18
Editorial: Sacrificing two kayaks and a Toyota for free speech

Editorial: Sacrificing two kayaks and a Toyota for free speech

Maggy Hurchalla joked this spring that all she could offer a billionaire who won a $4.4 million judgment against her after she exercised her free speech rights were "two kayaks and an aging Toyota.’’ The billionaire didn’t laugh. This week, Martin Co...
Published: 07/17/18
Updated: 07/18/18
Editorial: Trump sides with Putin over America

Editorial: Trump sides with Putin over America

In one of the most surreal news conferences of our time, President Donald Trump actually stood next to Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday and called the federal investigation into Russia’s meddling into the 2016 election "a disaster for our coun...
Published: 07/16/18
Editorial: A vote for preserving waterfront parks by St. Petersburg City Council

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The St. Petersburg City Council made the appropriate but difficult decision to reject a contract with renowned artist Janet Echelman for one of her aerial sculptures. It would be wonderful for the city to have one of her signature works, but Spa Beac...
Published: 07/13/18

‘Everybody needed to know what happened’

The brutal murder of Emmett Till, a black Chicago youth, in Mississippi nearly 63 years ago went unpunished, but not forgotten. A decision by his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, to allow an open casket at Emmett’s Chicago funeral represented an act of def...
Published: 07/13/18