Jones: Black lives don't matter to Jeff Sessions' Justice Department

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to order a broad review of federal agreements with law-enforcement agencies is nothing short of an attack on black and brown people.

AFTER THE RECENT actions of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, even the few black voters who supported Donald Trump despite his bigoted campaign rhetoric must now admit the obvious. A vote for Trump was a vote for racist policies.

Sessions' decision to order a broad review of federal agreements with dozens of law-enforcement agencies is nothing short of an attack on black and brown people. After all, those agreements were necessitated by systemic police abuses targeting minority communities. Attempting to pull out of those agreements - most of which have already been approved in federal court - delivers an indisputable message: Black lives don't matter to the Trump administration.

And make no mistake. This is about black lives.

That truth is not lost on activists who've long fought systemic police abuses targeting blacks. Few of them are surprised that Sessions - who once was denied a federal judgeship based largely on allegations of racism - is the man leading the charge.

"Jeff Sessions' entire career in the justice system is rooted in racism and anti-blackness," Asa Khalif, who leads Pennsylvania Black Lives Matter, told me. "If there was ever a time to rally and stand together as black people, it's now."

Given that Trump thanked black people for not voting after his surprising Electoral College victory, I think Khalif is right. We must stand together, because the examination of police departments across the country were spurred by high-profile police killings of unarmed African Americans. The same black people featured prominently in Justice Department reports that meticulously documented patterns of systemic police abuse.

The Obama administration compiled one such report following the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died after suffering a spinal injury in a police van when officers failed to properly restrain him with seat belts. Based on interviews, documents and an extensive review of six years of data, the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division concluded that the Baltimore Police Department engaged in an ongoing pattern of discrimination against African Americans.

The report minced no words in laying out the truth.

"BPD's targeted policing of certain Baltimore neighborhoods with minimal oversight or accountability disproportionately harms African-American residents," the report said. "Racially disparate impact is present at every stage of BPD's enforcement actions, from the initial decision to stop individuals on Baltimore streets to searches, arrests and uses of force. These racial disparities, along with evidence suggesting intentional discrimination, erode the community trust that is critical to effective policing."

Baltimore, which has paid more than $13 million to settle police brutality lawsuits since 2011, has already started the reforms it began to make under a consent decree negotiated with the Obama administration. According to both Police Commissioner Kevin Davis and Mayor Catherine Pugh, the city is eager to continue those reforms.

But Sessions' Justice Department wants those reforms to stop. On Monday, at Sessions' direction, the Justice Department requested a 90-day delay in implementing the consent decree to overhaul the Baltimore Police Department. A hearing seeking public comment on the agreement was to take place Thursday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. The whole thing is in limbo now.

In fact, agreements with dozens of police departments are now in jeopardy.

Those agreements are in place in 14 cities, including Seattle, Ferguson, Baltimore and Cleveland. Though Sessions is moving toward dismantling those agreements, there is some question as to whether he can do so, since federal judges have already been approved the agreements.

I spoke to civil rights attorney Paul Hetznecker about what could happen if the Justice Department abandons existing agreements.

"Those stakeholders that can intervene with respect to those consent decrees where Sessions specifically withdraws from the agreement, we need to see those stakeholders in those communities - in those cities where there has been a consent decree – if they can go ahead and enforce the consent decree that the federal judge has approved already," Hetznecker told me in a radio interview.

"Because remember, once a consent decree's approved by a federal judge, it's essentially binding on all the parties. And if Sessions decides to withdraw, he's in breach of that particular consent decree, and he's in breach of, essentially, the duties and obligations of the Justice Department to enforce it. So it will be interesting to see whether or not those particular stakeholders can step in and enforce any breach of those agreements. And I think that can happen."

I hope Hetznecker is right, because if Sessions is allowed to abandon agreements that spotlighted systemic discrimination in policing, those who are paid to protect us will again victimize us.

Surely, Trump and Sessions must recognize the wrong in that.

Sadly, I don't think they care.

Solomon Jones is the author of 10 books. Listen to him mornings from 7 to 10 on WURD (900-AM).

sj@solomonjones.com

@solomonjones1

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