Of all the ways the Trump administration has tried to roll back Obama-era initiatives, abandoning efforts to address police brutality, bias and misconduct may be one of the most devastating.
After protests broke out across the country following the police killings of Eric Garner in New York and Michael Brown in Missouri in 2014, the Department of Justice (DOJ) under former President Barack Obama began to ramp up its efforts to combat unconstitutional policing.
Obama’s DOJ increased the number of investigations
and lawsuits charging local police departments with systemic misconduct using its authority under the Law Enforcement Misconduct
statute.The Obama administration also created a bipartisan Task Force on 21st Century Policing
that issued a powerful report
identifying clear and achievable goals for policing reform, which included building trust with communities, increasing accountability measures for misconduct and re-imagining the recruitment and training of officers to confront issues of racial bias and discrimination.
When President Donald Trump entered the White House, however, his first appointed attorney general, Jeff Sessions, signaled that this would all change under his leadership
. Sessions made clear his disapproval of consent decrees
— legal agreements between the Justice Department and local governments that can be used to bind police departments to adopt reforms.
Sessions also ended
the DOJ’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office’s comprehensive collaborative assessments — voluntary, reform-oriented evaluations of police practices performed at the request of police departments. And, while Sessions’ DOJ would continue to prosecute
individual officers for violations of federal civil rights laws, it would limit
its investigation of police departments for engaging in “patterns and practices” of unconstitutional policing and use of consent decrees. President Trump also underscored this new approach to unconstitutional policing by pardoning former sheriff Joe Arpaio
, who was convicted of criminal contempt
for violating a court order to stop targeting suspected immigrants in a racial profiling case.
In fact, in a recent speech
to law enforcement, Trump’s current attorney general, William Barr, said Americans “have to start showing, more than they do, the respect and support that law enforcement deserves,” before going on to add, “if communities don’t give that support and respect, they might find themselves without the police protection they need.”
The nation’s chief law enforcement officer sent a clear message to African American communities and essentially told them to stop demanding that officers police their communities within the bounds of the US Constitution, or give up the expectation that officers will protect them from crime. This stunning statement further illustrates this administration’s continued and intentional regression when it comes to providing oversight of the nation’s police departments — and demonstrates why it is particularly pressing that the public step up efforts to ensure that law enforcement is transparent and accountable.
Read the full op-ed here