(ATLANTA) -- The leader of a major black law enforcement organization said he is worried that President Donald Trump's recent comments on the use of force could damage the already-fragile relationship between police and minority communities.
“We are not thugs. We are professionals," Perry Tarrant, president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, told reporters in Atlanta on Tuesday. "We fully expect law enforcement around the country to behave as professionals."
Tarrant added, "Whether intentional or unintentional, it's heard around the country by the folks we're trying to build relationships with, and I believe it had an impact."
Tarrant’s comments came shortly after he attended a closed-door meeting with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who spoke publicly at the group’s annual training conference in Atlanta earlier that day.
The president last week appeared to discourage police officers from being “nice” to suspects when arresting them, while speaking to law enforcement officers at an event in Brentwood, New York, that was meant to shed light on the MS-13 gang. Civil rights advocates and top law enforcement officials condemned the remarks, saying it promoted police brutality.
"When you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just see them thrown in, rough," Trump said. "I said, 'Please don't be too nice.' "
During Tuesday’s meeting, Tarrant said he told Sessions about the “the potential harm of off-the-cuff comments like those made by the president have in detracting from the legitimacy" of police and "detracting from the trust that local law enforcement and communities have.”
Tarrant, who is also the assistant police chief in Seattle, said Sessions appeared to understand the potential harm of such remarks during the private meeting, but he did not apologize for the comments.
The White House has stood by Trump's remarks, saying they were made in jest.
"I think you guys are jumping and trying to make something out of nothing," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said during a press briefing Tuesday, adding, "Wasn't a directive. It was a joke."
Sessions did not address Trump's comments directly during his public speech with the members of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, which represents more than 3,000 U.S. law enforcement officers, but acknowledged that the country should be "better" and "more careful" about policing.
“Community-based policing was a big part of reducing crime," Sessions said, adding, "We can’t back off that now. We need to get even better at it and more careful at it, making sure we’re doing it in a lawful way.”
"You know, all it takes is for one bad officer to destroy the reputations of so many who work every day to build good relationships in these communities and who serve with honor and distinction," he added.
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