On Wednesday, February 8th, a group of men were sitting around in the Oval Office. They included Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, Mike Pence, and a few others. The men were waiting for word that Jeff Sessions had been confirmed by the senate to be the next Attorney General of the United States. When the call finally came, the men ‘high-fived’ and whooped in ecstasy, one of them yelling, “Yeehaw! We got ‘em again!” By “’em”, he meant ‘them’, and by them, he meant me … he meant you … he meant We The People. And yes, they got us again. Another highly inappropriate, bigoted man was once again put in charge of an important function of our government, right under our noses, and we were powerless to stop it.
Did the above scenario actually take place? I have no idea, but I can picture it in my mind, and if that exact scenario did not happen, I am fairly certain that something close to it did. I could dwell here on why a group of supposedly intelligent Republican congressmen and women chose to bow to Trump’s wishes rather than to consider the best interest of the nation, of their own constituents, but it is a tale best left for another day, as there is more pressing business at hand today.
This post is Part I of II on the latest controversies and issues surrounding Mr. Sessions 3-week tenure in office and the reasons there are already calls for him to step down. I hope to have Part II ready later this evening, otherwise tomorrow morning.
Sessions has been in office for less than a month, yet already he has breached protocol in such a way that it is now clear he may not be capable of performing the duties of his job in a fair manner. I begin with a situation that may have been largely overlooked in the shadow of bigger news, which I will come to in Part II.
On April 12, 2015, Freddie Carlos Gray, Jr., a 25-year-old Black American man, was arrested by the Baltimore Police Department for possessing what the police alleged was an illegal switchblade under Baltimore law. While being transported in a police van, Gray fell into a coma and was taken to a trauma center where he died a week later from injuries to his spinal cord. On April 21, 2015, pending an investigation of the incident, six Baltimore police officers were suspended with pay. Due to a number of factors, not a single one of the six police officers were found guilty and charges were ultimately dropped on all six.
It was found, on investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ) under Attorney General Loretta Lynch, that the Baltimore Police Department has engaged in years of racially discriminatory policing that targeted black residents, illegally detaining and searching people and using excessive force. The federal investigators found that officers are poorly trained and that the department has fostered a culture in which complaints against police are often ignored. Most of the unconstitutional stops occurred in predominantly poor black neighborhoods, the report says, and some people were stopped simply because police perceived them as disrespectful.
As a result, on January 12th, 2017, the DOJ entered into a court-enforceable agreement with the City of Baltimore to resolve the discriminatory practices that are in violation of federal anti-discrimination laws, as well as the U.S. Constitution. The decree’s requirements focus on building community trust, creating a culture of community and problem-oriented policing, prohibiting unlawful stops and arrests, preventing discriminatory policing and excessive force, ensuring public and officer safety, enhancing officer accountability and making needed technological upgrades. Under the agreement, the parties will jointly recommend an independent monitor to the court to assess whether the requirements of the agreement are being implemented. Or, at least that was the plan.
On Tuesday, newly-minted Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the federal government would back away from monitoring troubled police departments. There are currently some 20 police departments being monitored across the nation, including Baltimore, Chicago, Maricopa County (Arizona) and others. In his speech, Session said, in part, “We need, so far as we can, in my view, help police departments get better, not diminish their effectiveness, And I’m afraid we’ve done some of that. So we’re going to try to pull back on this, and I don’t think it’s wrong or mean or insensitive to civil rights or human rights.”
The purpose of the monitoring, as I stated above, was to “help police departments get better”, through a combination of training, technology, and community trust. The monitoring is intended to enhance both the safety of the public and police officers. What is most disturbing about Sessions’ move is the message it sends to all law enforcement: It is now okay to profile, to target African-Americans and other minorities, to use excessive force, and the federal government will not interfere with what you do. There can be no doubt, given his past track record (see previous post) that AG Sessions is a racist, has little or no respect for African-Americans, and will not likely work toward enforcing laws that protect minorities.
“One of the big things out there that’s, I think, causing trouble and where you see the greatest increase in violence and murders in cities is somehow, some way, we undermine the respect for our police and made, oftentimes, their job more difficult,” said Sessions. I would argue that, while the vast majority of us do respect the police, respect must be earned, and in cases like Baltimore and Chicago, where officers have acted out of prejudice or bias, they themselves are the cause of any loss of respect among the community.
We teach our children that the police are your friends, that if you are ever in trouble, find a policeman and he will help you. But, if you are an African-American, a Hispanic, or a person of Middle-Eastern descent, you think twice before telling your children this. You ask yourself if it is true, or if you are guiding your children into the hands of those who would sooner do them harm. The potential end result of Sessions’ decision to ‘back off’ monitoring troubled police departments is that we end up with a nation-wide police state where we are all … white, black, young, old, male, female … afraid to walk down the sidewalk. Think about it.
Stay tuned for Part II – Did Sessions lie under oath, what is his Russian connection, and should he recuse himself?