Thursday, June 4, 2020

After 25 years of progress on police reform following the Rodney King beating, Trump and Sessions rolled back the clock and gave us the George Floyd killing

From Mother Jones

After police officers beat Rodney King in 1991, and then were acquitted on criminal charges -- sparking the Los Angeles riots -- America got serious about trying to reign in rogue cops. The Barack Obama administration was particularly aggressive about using Congressional action that gave the federal government oversight over local police departments.

That progress came to a halt in 2017 when Donald Trump and his first attorney general -- former U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) -- took office. Now, according to a report from Mother Jones, we have the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and widespread civil unrest to show for it. Writes reporter Pema Levy:

The civil unrest rocking the country in the wake of George Floyd’s death under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer has many catalysts. Among the more immediate is President Donald Trump and his first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who freed local police departments from federal oversight and signaled that police brutality was no longer a problem that the federal government had an interest in solving. For police officers and departments with histories of terrorizing people rather than building relationships with communities they are supposed to protect, that message was heard loud and clear.

After the police officers who beat Rodney King in March 1991 in Los Angeles were acquitted, leading to the Los Angeles riots, Congress took action by giving the federal government oversight of local police departments.

Here is what Mother Jones wrote in 2017, on the 25th anniversary of the LA riots:

Since then, the Justice Department has launched 70 investigations into state and local law enforcement agencies and has negotiated 40 reform agreements, half of which are court-enforced consent decrees. The Obama administration was particularly active with this policy, enforcing 14 consent decrees for troubled police agencies, from Ferguson, Missouri, to Baltimore.

The situation is rich with irony as last night marked the ninth consecutive night of protests over the Floyd killing:

The [LA] riots’ 25th anniversary also happened to mark the beginning of the Trump administration. Jeff Sessions, newly installed as attorney general, immediately set out to undo years of progress on police and criminal justice reform. In April of 2017, a federal judge approved a consent decree—a legally-binding agreement between the Justice Department and a police department mandating reforms that is enforced by a federal judge—in Baltimore, finding that Sessions’ objections to an agreement made under the Obama administration came too late. “I have grave concerns that some provisions of this decree will reduce the lawful powers of the police department and result in a less safe city,” Sessions said at the time. “Make no mistake, Baltimore is facing a violent crime crisis.”

Though stymied from preventing Baltimore’s consent decree from going into effect, that same week he had ordered an internal review of all existing consent decrees nationwide. Even as Sessions’ relationship with the president turned sour over his recusal from the investigation into Russian election interference, the attorney general kept his head down and pulled back on criminal justice reforms, returning to a tough-on-crime policies that Sessions, a former prosecutor in Alabama, felt should never have ended. (Sessions is running for his old Senate seat in Alabama, but without the support of Trump he is not expected to win the Republican nomination in a July runoff.) The government’s police reform work came to a halt, while criminal justice policies reverted to harsher iterations.

Thanks to Jeff Sessions, Americans now are less safe than they were when Trump took office, and the president's re-election chances probably have taken a hit. Writes Levy:

When Trump finally fired Sessions in November 2018, the outgoing attorney general had one final trick up his sleeve. Before leaving the Justice Department, he quietly signed a memorandum in one of his last official acts all but ending the department’s oversight of police departments. The memorandum made the Trump administration’s de facto policy against new consent decrees official, while extending the same hands-off policy to other areas of federal enforcement involving state responsibilities in areas like pollution and voting rights. Experts predicted that even departments already under current federal oversight might once again act with impunity because the memo undercut the authority of civil rights attorneys to enforce them. Sessions’ memo set policy, but it also sent a message to police departments that they would no longer have to answer to the federal government—not even when when officer shootings draw national attention.

This message was sent not just in the order to pare back enforcement, but in the states’ rights language framing the 7-page document that has historically signaled support for state repression over the rights of black people. “Sessions’ memo also takes pains to emphasize that states are ‘sovereign’ with ‘special and protected roles’ and that, when investigating them, the Justice Department must afford states the ‘respect and comity deserving of a separate sovereign,'” Christy Lopez, who oversaw investigations by the department into local police agencies during the Obama administration, wrote at the time the memo was issued. “In his view, the Justice Department should be more concerned about protecting states from the burden of abiding by federal law than about protecting individuals from being hurt or killed by the state.”

Lopez then made a prescient prediction: “As has so often been the case with this administration, we will have to look to the courts, to local governments and to grass-roots political protest and pressure to protect our civil rights from police abuse. Because, as the Sessions memo confirms, this Justice Department has no intention of letting its civil rights division protect us from abuse by the state.”


Anonymous said...

This was Jeff Sessions being Jeff Sessions. No surprises here.

Anonymous said...

Trump wants to establish a police state, and Sessions was the perfect guy to help him do it.

Anonymous said...

It's well established that Jeff Sessions is a racist and a fascist. This is just in keeping with his character.

Anonymous said...

Qualified immunity is a big problem in going after bad cops. There have been reports that Congress might make changes to the immunity issue, which often allows bad cops to get off the hook.

legalschnauzer said...

Trump is receiving heat from powerful military figures. From Muck Rack:

In that piece for Foreign Policy, Gen. Allen argues, “Right now, the last thing the country needs—and, frankly, the U.S. military needs—is the appearance of U.S. soldiers carrying out the president’s intent by descending on American citizens. This could wreck the high regard Americans have for their military, and much more.”

legalschnauzer said...

Here is more from Muck Rack re: George Floyd's death:

Stephen Montemayor and Chao Xiong of the Star Tribune reported that last night, Attorney General Keith Ellison upgraded the charges against the officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck and charged the other 3 involved. Derek Chauvin now faces the more serious charge of second-degree murder, in addition to the original charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter with culpable negligence.

Also at the Star Tribune, Paul Walsh reports on the George Floyd autopsy report, which shows Floyd tested positive for COVID-19 in April, but it was not a factor in his death. As Errin Haines says “He recovered, only to suffocate to death under the knee, weight, and inhumanity of four Minneapolis police officers. Clearest example yet of the #pandemicwithinthepandemic.”

legalschnauzer said...

More tales of rogus cops already are developing. From Muck Rack:

Meanwhile, another black man called out “I can’t breathe” before dying in police custody, this time in Tacoma, Wash. As Mike Baker reports at The New York Times, Manuel Ellis died in part as a result of how he was restrained, according to the medical examiner, who concluded that his death was a homicide.

In Florida, a Fort Lauderdale officer suspended for shoving a protester has a history of using force and drawing weapons, Charles Rabin of the Miami Herald reports. Jessica Lipscomb emphasizes, “The Fort Lauderdale cop who forcefully shoved a kneeling woman at a protest Sunday has been reviewed by internal affairs for using force 79 times (!!!) in just three and a half years.”

And Megan Cassidy of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Sean Monterrosa, who was fatally shot by Vallejo, Calif., police on Tuesday, was kneeling outside a Walgreens and not carrying a firearm when an officer opened fire. The officer fired five shots at Monterrosa through his own windshield. Max Berger thinks “It would be cool to live in a country where police didn’t routinely murder people at police brutality protests.”

legalschnauzer said...

More Trump lies, from Muck Rack:

Trump claimed that he was just going on a “tour” to inspect the secure bunker in the White House. In fact, according to Carol Leonnig’s scoop at The Washington Post, Secret Service moved Trump and his family to the secure space Friday after protesters breached temporary fences near the White House complex. This is really weird, because he so rarely lies.

Meanwhile, an AP News fact check by Calvin Woodward shows that, even though Trump and some of his supporters are claiming authorities did not use tear gas against people in a crackdown outside the White House this week, there’s evidence that they did. Put another way, “The tear gas you saw was tear gas,” tweets Hunter Walker.