GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35) - A spokesman for a Florida police department made social media waves when he replied on Twitter to President Donald Trump. Officer Ben Tobias with the Gainesville Police Department said the president's words didn't do them any favors.
On a visit to Long Island last week, Trump implored police officers, "Please don't be too nice," noting that some officers are too courteous to suspected criminals when arresting them. That prompted critics to accuse the president of encouraging police brutality.
"Like when you guys put somebody in the car, and you're protecting their head, you know, the way you put your hand over" their head, he said, putting his hand above his head for emphasis. "I said, `You can take the hand away, OK?" Trump declared.
Tobias said the comments were a step back for community policing.
“A large population in Gainesville does not trust the police. We know that and we're trying to do as much as we can to get those people on our side,” he said.
On the department’s official Twitter page, Tobias wrote: "the POTUS made remarks today that endorsed and condoned police brutality. GPD rejects these remarks and continues to serve with respect."
The tweet quickly went viral, nationwide.
“I looked down at my phone and I thought what did I just do? When I started seeing the numbers roll in,” Tobias said.
The message got tens of thousands of likes and retweets. Most were supportive, but some were not. Still, Tobias said he reached his target.
“Basically my audience was the Gainesville community to say you may see this today or later, but this is how your Gainesville Police Department is going to operate,” he said.
People in Gainesville seemed to support Tobias.
“I think police brutality, in any form, is unacceptable and should not be tolerated,” said Kyle Blundell. “I mean, this is America.”
“As you know, it's been a problem for the last few years,” added Crissy West. “If you take it overboard, there's a problem.”
Tobias said it just shows the power of social media.
“I never thought in my lifetime, I'd be addressing the President of the United States in a remark that he made in a negative way. I also never thought that I'd have the ability in 140 characters to reach across the world.”
Tobias said he wrote the tweet with the Gainesville police chief's knowledge and approval.
The White House is defending President Trump's recent remarks that police shouldn't be too nice when transporting suspects, saying Monday that the president was "making a joke." White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Monday, "I believe he was making a joke at the time."