April 3, 2017; Guardian
Declaring, “It is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies,” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions yesterday filed a memo in a Baltimore court that revealed he had, on March 31st, ordered a nationwide review of the consent decrees between the U.S. Department of Justice and local police departments. According to the Guardian, “attorneys for the Justice Department asked the court for a 90-day pause so it could ‘review and assess’ the plan.”
The affected consent decrees are meant to provide oversight on practices that exhibit racial disparities and other violations of civil rights, and are present in 19 jurisdictions, including Baltimore, Maryland; Cleveland, Ohio; Newark, New Jersey; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Ferguson, Missouri. (The future of Chicago’s is even more uncertain.) These decrees have stood as one of the more visible outcomes of the Black Lives Matter movement that has created a generation of young activists.
Apparently, the AG’s review will comprise training initiatives, collaborative reform programs, and legal consent decrees, all of which are to be brought into alignment with Sessions’ own operating principles, one of which is, “The misdeeds of individual bad actors should not impugn or undermine the legitimate and honorable work that law enforcement officers and agencies perform in keeping American communities safe.”
The ACLU is characterizing the move as “a blatant attempt by the Justice Department to abandon its obligations under federal civil rights law and the U.S. Constitution. […] There is no national census of police misconduct to support the DOJ’s notion that there are only a few bad actors in law enforcement. Indeed, DOJ’s own investigative reports over the past eight years document systemic unlawful policing practices of local law enforcement in cities across the country.”
Sessions made his intentions to roll these back quite clear in his confirmation hearings in January, saying he would hand authority back to local police chiefs by weakening such agreements.—Ruth McCambridge