Roll back of consent decrees would kill efforts to end racial bias in police practices.
On Monday, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered a review of the previous administration’s consent decrees (agreements with more than 20 police departments to change racially biased practices), he set the country back more than most probably realize. In a two-page memo, he essentially gave police permission to ignore civil rights changes and continue to target the black community. And as the most recent, brutal interactions between police and minority communities have shown, targeting all too often leads to death.
Since the killing of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old who was shot on his way home from the store in Florida in 2012, Black Lives Matter and other modern-day civil rights movements have pushed for the Department of Justice to investigate police practices in cities such as Baltimore, Ferguson and Chicago. And the DOJ complied, shocking some by reporting what blacks have known about police departments for decades — that these departments were filled with entrenched racism, systemic discrimination and policing tactics that were rooted in racial bias.
Coretta Scott King, the late widow of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, warned the world about Sessions more than 20 years ago. In 1986, she penned a letter opposing Sessions’ nomination for a federal judgeship. She wrote that Sessions, who has served as an attorney general in and a senator from Alabama, “used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters.”
The same attitude of intimidation continues today.
In his Monday memo, Sessions claimed that “it is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies.” This statement ignores the federal statute that gives national authority to investigate local departments suspected of being in violation of civil rights.
Last month, seven Baltimore police officers were indicted, with the help of the FBI, on federal racketeering charges. Accusations against the officers ranged from filing false overtime reports to stealing money from citizens. One of the officers was also indicted on drug charges. Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis responded to the federal charges saying, “We wouldn’t be under a consent decree if we didn’t have issues. We have issues.”
Make no mistake, in no way do the already mandated consent decrees solve the problem of policing. In fact, many of them lack the mandate to put citizens on police trial boards — a necessary move if we are to build trust between cops and communities and more objectively punish officers for infractions.
Even so, these decrees are a first step in holding law enforcement accountable and strengthening cop-community relations. Scaling back on investigations at this point will destroy the little progress that’s been made, justify continued racist practices in the eyes of the most biased officers and prevent justice from being served.
It always amazes me when I talk to folks who support President Trump and they complain about how people of color make everything about race. Some Trump supporters say blacks pretend to be victims of discrimination. In just two-and-a-half months, the Trump administration’s actions have proved that people of color have no need to pretend. The reality of racism during Trump’s tenure (as brief as it has been) has only become more stark. The Muslim travel ban prompted Transportation Security Administration agents to detain U.S. citizens and green-card holders at airports. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids have torn apart families and arrested tax-contributing undocumented workers, many of whom have lived in the USA for longer than I’ve been alive.
The Trump administration’s objective is supposed to be making America great again. But the administration’s tactics have, for blacks, made America deadly.
As a diverse country, we cannot afford to move backward on police reform. Trump, who bragged about his business acumen during his presidential campaign, is missing the point that he can’t run a country like a corporation. Lives can’t be bid on like stocks.
The progress of individuals, not dividends, is at stake. For too many of us, the “again” in Trump’s slogan is a constant reminder that our lives will continue to be abused, sacrificed and marginalized. If all lives matter, then saying that black lives matter shouldn’t offend. Advocating against the unjustifiable killings of unarmed black people shouldn’t be a responsibility but rather an obligation by elected officials.
Source: USA Today