Attorney General Jeff Sessions warned that the agreement negotiated under the Obama administration to overhaul the troubled Baltimore police force may result in “a less safe city.” Sessions said in a statement Friday that the Baltimore agreement shows “clear departures from many proven principles of good policing that we fear will result in more crime.” The “proven principles” to which he refers are racism, including profiling and police brutality against African-Americans.
The subject of Sessions’ remarks is the agreement between the U.S. Department of Justice under former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and the City of Baltimore, Maryland, partly as a response to the murder of Freddie Gray in 2015. The agreement calls for sweeping police reforms aimed at restoring community trust in city cops, and ensuring that they conduct everyday police work within the bounds of the Constitution. It orders more officer supervision and training on de-escalation tactics and interactions with youths, those with mental illnesses and protesters, and creates a special citizen task force to find ways to enhance civilian oversight of the department, among other changes. The agreement has the support of Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, as well as Police Commissioner Kevin Davis.
In contradiction to Sessions’ statement, Mayor Pugh said, “I believe that it makes Baltimore safer. I think by building and training our police officers in ways to de-escalate violence, to work with our communities, to have cultural diversity training and have the right kind of tools they need to know what they can do in certain areas of our community … I think it’s improved policing.”
The Justice Department initially opened their investigation a full year before Freddie Gray’s death, after the Baltimore Sun revealed that the city had paid out millions in more than 100 civil suits alleging police misconduct and brutality. Jeff Sessions was confirmed as Attorney General in February, despite verified allegations of past incidents of blatant racism. One of his first moves was to begin to walk back its commitment to federal oversight of police departments with discriminatory patterns or practices. Last week, Sessions ordered a review of all consent decrees between police departments and the Justice Department.
In response, US District Judge James Bredar said on Friday that the time for reviewing the agreement had passed. “The case is no longer in a phase where any party is unilaterally entitled to reconsider the terms of the settlement; the parties are bound to each other by their prior agreement. The time for negotiating the agreement is over. The only question now is whether the Court needs more time to consider the proposed decree. It does not.” And with that, he approved the police reform agreement and entered it as an order of the court.
As Attorney General of Alabama, Sessions had a history of overturning, or causing to be overturned, efforts to enhance racial inclusion. For example, in 1994 he convinced a federal circuit court to reject a prior ruling that would have remedied minority voter dilution by requiring additional judgeships and establishing a commission charged with selecting diverse candidates for new vacancies. Since then, there have been no African-American judges on either the Alabama Supreme Court or the states two lower appellate courts. This continued under President Obama, with Sessions opposing Obama’s picks for the five vacant district judgeships in Alabama, as well as the open seat on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
At every turn, when met with efforts to increase diverse representation or reverse the vast racial disparities in the criminal justice system, Jeff Sessions has stood in opposition. He has disparaged groups working to reform the death penalty, publicly supported “chain gangs” for prisoners in Alabama, and worked against bipartisan efforts to reform federal sentencing, including severe mandatory minimums that fall hardest on black and Latino offenders.
I applaud Judge James Bredar’s decision to stand by and affirm the agreement between the Justice Department and the City of Baltimore, but Baltimore is not the only city with similar agreements. Other cities include: Cleveland (Ohio), Miami (Florida), Newark (New Jersey), and Ferguson (Missouri), where another African-American, Michael Brown, was shot and killed by police in 2014. Will there be other judges willing to stand up to Sessions and his Department of ‘Justice’ in the future?
Jeff Sessions has no concern for the civil rights of our citizens, and by selecting him to occupy the position of Attorney General of the United States, Donald Trump has shown us that he, too, is unconcerned about the state of race relations in our cities. This is a sad state of affairs that has the potential to undo much of the progress of the last 50 years. Contrary to what Trump and Sessions both apparently believe, justice and crime are not determined by the colour of a person’s skin.