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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

‘Body bags’ comments: Do they go too far?

Did Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and state Sen. Jack Martins go over the top with their “body bag” references during a public rally supporting police on Sunday?

“Target our citizens, target our police, and you’re going home in a body bag,” Mangano said, to thunderous applause at Eisenhower Park, where hundreds of firefighters representing every Nassau fire department and some from Suffolk County rallied in support of police.

“Our police department is literally the difference between life and death,” Martins (R-Old Westbury) chimed in at the event. “You take on the police, you take on society; you’re going home in a body bag.”

Body bags? During a long and getting-hotter summer that almost every week has featured some unspeakable acts of violence? Were, as some complained to me via email, Mangano and Martins giving police permission to fire away? Could, as others expressed, some madman consider such remarks a dare?

Either possibility is terrifying with officers in Nassau and Suffolk already doubling up in response to a series of retaliatory attacks on police officers around the nation.

“Body bag” rhetoric also could help undermine weeks of efforts by local authorities and black and Hispanic communities working to ease tensions, and strengthen police-neighborhood relationships in the wake of the police-involved shootings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota, and the retaliatory shootings of police officers in Texas.

In an interview Monday, Mangano stood behind his statement, saying that the “body bag” comment was just a portion of his off-the-cuff remarks in support of Nassau’s police officers. The intent wasn’t to incite or escalate tensions, but to note how the county’s police procedures for handling active shooters have changed, Mangano said.

Conceding that nuance is not the hallmark of any rally, Mangano elaborated about his remarks Sunday, pointing out that, as per the latest training for police, the first job of officers responding to an active shooter scene is to eliminate the shooter.

“The number one priority is to terminate, that is what the model is now,” Mangano said.

Chris Schneider, a spokesman for Martins, who is running for Congress in the 3rd District against Democrat Thomas Suozzi, said in a statement, “leaders on all sides have condemned the killing of police officers. When someone is carrying out an assassination attempt against police (or anyone else for that matter), law enforcement’s first responsibility is to neutralize the threat to prevent further escalation. That’s what his remarks reinforce.”

So, now we know.

“Times have changed and we have a harder task, with police having to watch to protect the public; and with police having to watch to protect the police,” Mangano said. “It is a very sad dynamic.”


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