City Officials Step Up After DOJ Told To Stop Worrying About Civil Rights Violations By Law Enforcement Agencies
from the bold-'us-vs.-them'-strategy-to-prop-up-flagging-LEO-morale dept
It appears the DOJ will no longer be in the business of policing the police. A memo issued by every cop's new best friend, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, states the DOJ will be doing more to empower police and will conduct fewer civil rights investigations of law enforcement agencies. On one hand, it makes sense to have the locals handle their own problems. On the other hand, the locals have repeatedly shown a willingness to ignore abusive policing until the feds are forced to step in.
It may be difficult to roll back DOJ agreements and oversight of investigated agencies immediately. It may, in fact, be impossible. Those consent decrees that have made their way through the court system on the way to being put into force would take some serious litigating to roll back. It's not clear the DOJ's interested in attempting an expensive clawback of police oversight and policy changes.
It's those that haven't been formalized through this process that are in danger of being scaled back, if not removed completely. The DOJ has filed a motion asking for time to review its proposed consent decree with the Baltimore PD in light of AG Sessions' memo. The DOJ also just finished wrapping up an investigation of the Chicago PD, but statements made by Sessions and President Trump indicate the White House and DOJ are more interested in solving Chicago's crime problem, rather than its police problem.
Sessions himself has no interest in police misconduct or systemic civil liberties violations and abuse the DOJ has uncovered over the past eight years. He claimed the lengthy investigation the DOJ's civil rights division performed produced nothing more than "anecdotal" evidence. He made this claim while admitting he hasn't read any of the investigative reports.
By not reading the reports, Sessions won't have to deal with contradictory thoughts while shifting the DOJ towards its new position as a law enforcement booster club. Adam Serwer of The Atlantic points out the vast amount of denial Sessions is swimming in.
As attorney general, Sessions said he read a summary, but not the full Ferguson report, which found that “95% of Manner of Walking charges; 94% of all Fail to Comply charges; 92% of all Resisting Arrest charges; 92% of all Peace Disturbance charges; and 89% of all Failure to Obey charges” were filed against black residents. But on the basis of the summary alone, Sessions concluded that the report was “pretty anecdotal” and “not scientifically based.”
The refusal to believe police abuse could be systemic rather than individual is, in the aftermath of all the data collected by the very agency Sessions now leads, a form of denial. Nor can Sessions’s decision be justified by the familiar excuse that police reforms lead to higher crime rates—the notion that “it is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies,” is a normative standard that would eschew federal oversight of local police regardless of the crime rate or the gravity of any abuse that might occur.
This is a problem that's going to be bigger than just the guy sitting at the head of the DOJ organizational chart. Sessions' memo made it clear he actually believes misconduct and discriminatory policing are the handywork of a "few bad apples." That cannot possibly be true unless it's just a "few bad apples" issuing 90% of the summonses and performing 90% of the arrests. Every investigation by the DOJ turns up systemic abuses. Not one has reached the conclusion that the problems would all go away with a handful of firings.
Sessions' memo is morale booster for bad cops. It states the DOJ will focus on everything but systemic police misconduct and every excuse will be made to clear cops of wrongdoing. The DOJ's civil rights division at least gave people hope that America's policing could be improved, possibly even rising to the level of "constitutional" most of the time. That hope is now gone. As Adam Serwer puts it, Sessions' DOJ is abandoning the public by turning a blind eye to misconduct by public servants.
Sessions’s memo reads as an announcement that it is no longer the business of the federal government if American citizens’ rights are violated by those sworn to protect them and empowered with lethal force to do so. When local governments violate the basic constitutional rights of citizens, Americans are supposed to be able to look to the federal government to protect those rights. Sessions has made clear that when it comes to police abuses, they’re now on their own.
For what it's worth, some cities whose consent decrees might disappear thanks to the DOJ's new marching orders are promising to carry on without the federal government's carrots and sticks. Baltimore officials are saying they're not interested in rollbacks or compromises in the proposed consent decree the DOJ wants more time to examine in light of Sessions' "law and order" memo. [Warning: ad blocker-blocking dead ahead.]
Any interruption in moving forward may have the effect of eroding the trust that we are working hard to establish," Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said in a statement.
The same goes for Chicago, where a consent decree may never be put in place by the DOJ.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and police chief Eddie Johnson have also vowed to press ahead with reforms within the city's police department, noting that a plan has already been drafted in recent weeks.
This is encouraging, even if the statements may end up being more sincere than the follow-through. The discouraging fact is these cities would have likely done nothing about the problems in their law enforcement agencies without the DOJ stepping in. If the DOJ's no longer going to be pursuing investigations of local PDs, it's all in the hands of local officials, and most are willing to ignore issues until they become front-page news around the nation.