In a Regrettable Fraternity

There is painful irony to the message that President Trump delivered Friday in Brentwood. Speaking to a group of police that included members of all of the East End departments, Mr. Trump ostensibly addressed the violent MS-13 gang. But he also told the officers and assembled police brass that they should feel free to rough up suspects. A White House spokeswoman has said that he intended the off-script comment as a joke. If it were a joke, it showed unfathomable insensitivity; if Ms. Trump was being serious, it showed what seems like criminal depravity.

Violent encounters with law enforcement are nothing new. In some situations, they are an unavoidable aspect of the job. But what is entirely unacceptable is for the president of the United States to promote the unlawful treatment of people in police custody. By doing that he placed himself among a regrettable fraternity of the world’s repressive leaders, including President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, whom he is said to admire, and Turkey’s dictatorial President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had a warm welcome in the Trump White House.

We find hope in the fact that many officers and police brass who reacted to Mr. Trump’s speech were alarmed. Though some in law enforcement here have been hesitant to speak out publicly, others, including the Boston, Los Angeles, and New York Police Departments, have issued statements reiterating their positions on the use of excessive force and decrying the president’s remarks.

At a moment when U.S. police have come under scrutiny for the shooting deaths of unarmed civilians, it is counterproductive for the president to condone violence. This is one reason why so many departments spoke out in opposition so quickly. Policing is difficult work. It should not have been made more difficult, especially among communities of color, by a thoughtless president’s incendiary remarks.