Jeff Sessions, the United States attorney general who runs the Department of Justice (DOJ) and is in charge of making sure that everyone—including police officers—obey the law, has increasingly made it clear that he does not support prosecuting law enforcement officers who violate the civil rights of the people they are supposed to serve.
First, he told members of the National Association of Attorneys General on February 28 that the DOJ would “pull back on” suing police departments. Then on April 3, he directed his department to review all the consent decrees that have been considered, written and approved with municipalities across the country, each of which concerned officers purposely violating the civil rights of people of color.
In an essay published yesterday via USA Today, Sessions explained his policy for overseeing police departments, which he says needs to start with avoiding “harmful federal intrusion into the daily work of local police.” Per The Washington Post’s database, police have killed at least 136 people of color so far in 2017.
From the essay:
Yet amid this plague of violence, too much focus has been placed on a small number of police who are bad actors rather than on criminals. And too many people believe the solution is to impose consent decrees that discourage the proactive policing that keeps our cities safe.
The Department of Justice agrees with the need to rebuild public confidence in law enforcement through common-sense reforms, such as de-escalation training, and we will punish any police conduct that violates civil rights. But such reforms must promote public safety and avoid harmful federal intrusion in the daily work of local police.
When proactive policing declines and violent crime rises, minority communities get hit the hardest. We will not sign consent decrees for political expediency that will cost more lives by handcuffing the police instead of the criminals. Every neighborhood needs to be safe and peaceful.
Sessions’ assertion that consent decrees are dangerous for communities directly opposes data that says these agreements—which legally bind municipalities and their justice systems to internal reform, de-escalation training and increased diversity—are good for communities of color. As Mic reports, a long-term study in Los Angeles and early stats from Cleveland and Ferguson show baby steps toward progress following these agreements.
Read Sessions’ full essay here.