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Monday, April 23, 2018

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

As President Donald Trump’s attacks on football players protesting police brutality continue to grip the news cycle, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken to conservative talk radio to advocate for policing tactics that would exacerbate the very problem the protesters are seeking to resolve.

During a September 22 rally for then-candidate Luther Strange’s Senate campaign, Trump attacked NFL players for kneeling during the national anthem in protest of racial injustice — specifically police brutality — saying, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired?’” Trump continued his crusade against the predominantly African-American protesters with a number of tweets throughout the weekend defending his comments.

The president’s diatribe against the peaceful protesters consumed the news cycle for the days following, during which time Sessions appeared on at least two nationally syndicated conservative talk radio shows to tout new statistics showing an increase in violent crime for the second consecutive year. Sessions used the data and the platform to push for policies that could undermine further relations between minority communities and law enforcement.

Appearing on the September 27 edition of The Laura Ingraham Show, Sessions claimed that “we’ve gotten away from principles of law enforcement that work,” alluding to the shift away from law enforcement policies spearheaded in the 1980s and early 1990s, when, according to U.S. News & World Report, “blacks were five times more likely to be arrested for drugs than whites were.” Sessions continued, “You’ve got to effectively stop and have sufficient punishment to deter people from committing crime,” presumably referencing his May 10 memo outlining a plan to increase mandatory minimums and beef up drug sentencing.

On the September 26 edition of The Sean Hannity Show, Sessions proposed police departments reinstitute the law enforcement strategy of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Republican who became notorious for proliferating stop-and-frisk policies that unconstitutionally targeted minorities. In 2013, a New York judge’s review of the city’s stop-and-frisk policies concluded that “the city’s highest officials have turned a blind eye to the evidence that officers are conducting stops in a racially discriminatory manner.”

Sessions also told Hannity’s audience that the Department of Justice should focus on “respecting,” “working with,” and “supporting … not undermining” local police departments. To Sessions, that involves rolling back consent decrees, reform agreements between the Department of Justice and local police departments that are meant to address pervasive problems, such as use of excessive of force, at the local level. Sessions spoke out against the agreements in the spring and ordered a review of them, and experts criticized him for it. A federal judge in Baltimore, MD, even rejected Sessions’ attempt to torpedo the consent decree with the city’s police force.

From sentencing to police oversight, criminal justice experts have lambasted nearly every policy Sessions has implemented as attorney general, highlighting the detrimental effects they could have on minorities and urging Sessions to take an evidence-based approach to law enforcement policy. Comprehensive studies have shown that “incarceration has little or no effect on crime.” Improper stop and frisk also has not been shown to reduce crime; instead, it tends to create animosity between minority communities and law enforcement, and can be unconstitutional racial discrimination.

Consent decrees offer solutions for police departments struggling with civil rights concerns. And while tough policing policies may have played a role in the lowering crime rates in the 1980s and 1990s, the yield was limited, and any benefits came with a significant civil rights cost.

Sessions watched as journalists outside of the conservative media sphere grilled Trump surrogates over the president’s racially charged attacks on civil rights protesters. Perhaps it’s for that reason he is relying on friendly talk radio hosts to help him push policies that will further inflame tensions between minorities and police.



Header image by Sarah Wasko / Media Matters