A heavy hand of governmental law enforcement has pounded citizens needlessly in cities large and small. Death, injury and disenfranchisement have resulted.
Some police officers take the “force” in enforcement literally. Leaders of certain police departments do little to ensure equal application of the law.
The other side of oppression by law enforcement can be federal. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions wields that heavy hand.
Sessions made his administrative glee apparent by having his office on Monday file a disruptive motion. It asked for a 90-day delay in a federal court public hearing that had been scheduled for Thursday in Baltimore.
The motion said the Justice Department has changed direction to “prioritize efforts at crime reduction, and cooperation with state and local law enforcement.”
U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar approved the public hearing Feb. 15. The Justice Department and the city of Baltimore requested the hearing as they worked together on police reforms. The purpose was to hear from residents about their views on the reforms and a consent decree that would put them in place.
Baltimore opposed the delay. The city told the court it invited the Justice Department to investigate the Baltimore Police Department and develop a reform agreement “when the city was engulfed in unrest following the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody in April 2015, and the ensuing spike in homicide rates in Baltimore.”
In his ruling to move ahead with the hearing, Bredar noted how fellow judges canceled Thursday hearings in their courtrooms and court employees trained for special roles in the large public hearing, and how deputy U.S. marshals were redeployed and special security measures were put in place.
“To postpone the public hearing at the eleventh hour,” Bredar said in his ruling, “would be to unduly burden and inconvenience the court, the other parties, and, most importantly, the public.”
The judge accepted neither of the nonsensical delays proposed by Sessions’ attorneys this week. The Monday motion asked for 90 days. A request in court Thursday sought 30 days.
Bredar said a delay would not address core questions: “whether the parties proposed decree is fair, adequate, reasonable, legal, noncollusive and in the public interest.”
Sessions criticized Bredar’s decree approval.
“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 Friday.
“The time for negotiating the agreement is over,” Bredar said. “The only question now is whether the court needs more time to consider the proposed decree. It does not.”
“The public statements made in writing and during the recent hearing make clear that time is of the essence,” Bredar said. “Now, it is time to enter the decree and thereby require all involved to get to work.”
The title of attorney general is an aberration among members of the presidential Cabinet, most being secretaries. Call Jeff Sessions the secretary of injustice.
Sessions seeks to halt a number of police-reform decrees similar to Baltimore’s.
“The safety and protection of the public is the paramount concern and duty of law enforcement officials,” Sessions wrote in a March 31 memo to his department heads and U.S. attorneys.
The second priority in Sessions’ memo is “Law enforcement officers perform uniquely dangerous tasks, and the department should help promote officer safety, officer morale and public respect for their work.”
Only third in Sessions’ listing is “Local law enforcement must protect and respect the civil rights of all members of the public.”
Nowhere is there a reminder that one is innocent until proved guilty and that one should be treated as such. Nowhere is reducing unnecessarily forceful treatment of suspects mentioned. Nowhere can a warning against racial profiling be found.
Sessions’ authoritarian objective is to pump up police officers and police departments to boost their power and esteem.
In his memo, Sessions ordered Justice Department leaders to “immediately review all department activities — including collaborative investigations and prosecutions, grant making, technical assistance and training, compliance reviews, existing or contemplated consent decrees, and task force participation.”
Sessions also wrote, “It is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage nonfederal law enforcement agencies.”
In short, Sessions hoped to use a Baltimore delay as a model for withdrawing from reform efforts in Chicago; Cleveland; New Orleans; Seattle; Ferguson, Missouri; and more than a dozen other cities.
In line with his criticism of Judge Bredar’s decision in Baltimore, expect Sessions to continue his misguided push to eliminate police reform in every city he can.
Justice means more than a criminal conviction, more than a prison sentence. It means being fair, correct and — in the United States — constitutional.
As attorney general, Jeff Sessions must ensure that these standards are upheld by every agency of law enforcement, whether local, state or federal.