By Rosetta Miller Perry
America has had its share of awful Attorney Generals, but few have been as dismal as Jeff Sessions. Last Wednesday his dreadful tenure in office ended when his even worse boss President Donald Tump fired him.
The fact that someone as totally unsuitable for office as Trump is even in the White House remains a major disgrace.
But Sessions managed to rival Trump in making his position a national embarrassment. He also was turning the Department of Justice, one of the few usually reliable allies of Civil Rights and social justice, into an obstacle of equality.
Sessions last act as Attorney General was to approve a new measure restricting the federal government’s ability to enforce consent decrees and agreements with state and local law enforcement agencies accused of abuse.
In simpler language, this drastically cuts the Justice Department’s ability to intervene in local and state cases where there has been dubious or questionable behavior by police officers.
Given the high number of borderline and just plain wrong police shootings over the past few years, the government’s possible intervention was a weapon many police departments feared.
During the Obama administration there were 25 of these agreements reached in such cities as Chicago, New Orleans, Cleveland, and most notably, Ferguson, Missouri.
There were also 14 consent decrees, including one in Baltimore where the police department made substantial changes in training policies and procedures.
Vanita Gupta, the current President and Chief Executive Officer of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, had a blistering denunciation of Sessions and this action.
“Jeff Sessions parting act was another attack on the mission of the Department of Justice,” Gupta said
“The memo is designed to restrict consent decrees and creates a series of increasingly higher roadblocks to hinder their effectiveness.”
The new rules stipulate that two senior political appointees of the Department of Justice must approve any new consent decrees or agreements. Plus, there has now been added a “sunset provision” that limits the time of any agreement to three years maximum.
On top of these requirements, now for any agreement to be reached the burden of proof now extends to additional requirements that go beyond just police departments violating the Constituion. Questions of motivation and intent are part of the burden of proof that will be needed.
So let no one shed any tears for Jeff Sessions or act as though he is a victim. He will be fine and is already talking about running for the Senate in 2020.
The victims are this nation’s justice system, which he ravaged, and citizens in neighborhoods where police feel they can be judge, jury and sometimes executioner when situations arise involving legal issues and people of color.
Thanks to Jeff Sessions, the police now have more leeway to act as they choose rather than operate on behalf of the people they are sworn to protect.