Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Meet the New Jeff, Same As the Old Jeff

Attorney General & perjurer Jeff Sessions
After contentious Senate confirmation hearings during which he denied being a racist and dismissed his own record of opposition to civil rights as both an attorney general and a state senator from Alabama, the real Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, III is finally materializing out of the political mist like some kind of cultural vampire.

His first and middle names, which should be familiar to Civil war and history buffs, evoke the Confederate heroes his family has idolized for three generations.

The memorandum from the Department of Justice released to the public on Monday outlining Session's plans for a comprehensive review of the various federal consent decrees with police departments accused of racially-biased policing practices suggests that America's controversial attorney general fully intends to live up to the philosophy of his Confederate namesakes.

It's a striking move by a chaotic presidential administration already facing widespread criticism for its pursuit of government policies that are overtly xenophobic (Trump's Wall) and virulently anti-Muslim executive orders - like the Muslim travel ban that was recently overturned by federal judges.

By now it's clear that the Trump administration's pursuit of radical policy changes based purely on extremist conservative ideology are intentionally designed to both provoke, agitate and more importantly to distract from the larger picture of the numerous White House ties to Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

Trump and his minions seem almost obsessed with undoing every one of the accomplishments of the Obama administration, regardless of the impact on the economy, foreign policy, human rights, justice or the environment.
Yes, Trump allowed Alaskan hunters to shoot and
kill a bear hibernating in a den with her cubs
For crying out loud, as reported, on Monday Trump and the GOP Congress revoked a ban on hunters using reprehensible tactics against bears and wolves like shooting them from airplanes and killing them while they're hibernating inside their dens with their cubs in winter in Alaska's national wildlife preserves - a rule that was passed by the Fish and Wildlife Service under Obama.

One of the first rules Trump targeted was an Obama-era rule protecting rivers and streams from waste from coal mining.

But what's to be gained by challenging the 14 federal consent decrees the Department of Justice entered into with some of the 25 different police departments it investigated for civil rights violations under the Obama administration?

Remember these weren't just random politically-motivated fishing expeditions to make members of law enforcement look bad, these were federal probes that were undertaken in the wake of flagrant cases of racially-biased policing that resulted in deaths, serious bodily injury or serious violations of suspect's, prisoner's, or in some cases innocent people's Constitutional rights.

Was Jeff Sessions in some kind of coma when 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot and killed by a member of the Cleveland Police Department in 2014?

Or was he on another planet when Freddie Gray died as a result of a broken neck while in the custody of the Baltimore Police Department in 2015?

Ex-AG Loretta Lynch announcing the release
of the DOJ report on the CPD in February
Remember the night before Thanksgiving back in 2015 when the Chicago PD finally released the dash-cam footage of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald being shot 16 times by Chicago PD officer Jason Van Dyke as the kid was walking away from six police officers with a 6-inch knife in his hand?

The autopsy showed that nine of those bullets were fired when McDonald was already on the ground.

But Van Dyke's actions were not an anomaly.

The results of the Department of Justice investigation into the Chicago Police Department, which were released on February 13th just days before Trump took office, reported that:

"it has found reasonable cause to believe that the Chicago Police Department (CPD) engages in a pattern or practice of using force, including deadly force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution...the pattern or practice results from systematic deficiencies in training and accountability, including the failure to train officers in de-escalation and the failure to conduct meaningful investigations of use of force."

By all accounts local community leaders, political leaders and some members of the police were in support of the consent decrees in cities like Cleveland, Chicago and Baltimore - so why would Jeff Sessions conduct a "sweeping review" of these consent decrees which were the result of months of investigations and thousands of man hours?

To reflect the "vision" for American policing of a president with no law enforcement, political or municipal oversight experience - a man who shared his arcane views of the U.S. as being some kind of apocalyptic crime-ridden wasteland during unhinged speeches at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and at the Inauguration in January.

Judge James K Bredar
Fortunately, as journalists Kevin Rector and Luke Broadwater reported in an article for the Baltimore Sun earlier this evening, U.S. District Judge James dismissed a Department of Justice request for a 90-day delay in a hearing that is scheduled for tomorrow in which citizens of Baltimore will be allowed to publicly express their support for the federal consent decree between the DOJ and the Baltimore PD in the interest of enacting meaningful systematic reforms to prevent the kind of egregious civil rights violations that resulted in Freddie Gray's death.

Baltimore citizens will be allowed 3 minutes apiece to address the court from 9:30am to 5pm tomorrow to express their views on the decree and the need to reform the BPD.

It says a lot about Jeff Sessions and his vision for the role of the Department of Justice that he dispatched two DOJ lawyers to try and delay that hearing.

Particularly given the widespread unrest that gripped the city in the wake of Freddie Gray's death in police custody - community outrage that boiled over after years of excessive use of force by the Baltimore PD.

But the judge's ruling is not likely to stop Session's efforts to use the power of the DOJ to block the consent decrees, so time will tell if the city moves to willingly adhere to the terms set out in the decree - terms and conditions overseen by a judge and a court-appointed monitor.

As Hal Dardick and Katherine Skiba reported for the Chicago Tribune yesterday, that's a question facing the city of Chicago as well even though Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPD Superintendent Eddie Johnson along with local city political and community leaders along with citizens have expressed a desire to follow through with the difficult tasks of enacting meaningful systematic police reform to improve community relations and prevent unnecessary deaths.

With the huge catalog of challenges facing the Department of Justice, is undoing consent decrees meant to improve public trust between the community and the police really the priority for Jeff Sessions?

Given the epidemic of so many citizens of color dying at the hands of American law enforcement, Sessions' announcement on Monday has obvious racial overtones and political ramifications for the Trump administration and the Republican Party as well.

How Sessions handles Trump's simplistic desire to portray himself as a "friend" of law enforcement and ignore issues related to racially-biased policing will reveal a lot about what the Department of Justice's priorities are going to be for the foreseeable future.

It's also going to reveal a great deal about the true character of the man once deemed too racist to be nominated to the District Court.

A man who once called Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Figures, an African-American, "boy", and a man who Coretta Scott King accused in a lengthy letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee of using "the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters" in Alabama.

Based on his memorandum on Monday, so far he seems a lot like the same old Jeff Sessions.

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