On Wednesday, the Justice Department announced it would not charge officers in Alton Sterling's death
David Love: Decision reflects the philosophy of the new attorney general -- Jeff Sessions -- who is known for his strong police sympathies
The killing of black honor student Jordan Edwards by police in Balch Springs, Texas, and the failure of the Justice Department to charge Baton Rouge police officers in the death of Alton Sterling provide further proof of a systemic problem of police violence.
Sadly, the Justice Department, now led by US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is unlikely to tackle this issue.
A top student and athlete, Edwards, 15, was shot to death when a police officer fired his rifle into a car in the Dallas suburb. The officer was later terminated.
This comes as the Justice Department has refused to charge two police officers in the July 5, 2016, convenience store shooting of Sterling. A bystander’s video showed police pinning Sterling to the ground before shooting him.
The Sterling case marks the first high-profile police shooting decision made under Sessions’ watch. And it appears as if Sessions’ pro-police, law-and-order philosophy is already starting to influence the way decisions are made in his department.
So we shouldn’t hold our breath waiting for the attorney general to press charges in the death of Edwards – or anyone killed by the police, for that matter.
Sessions’ record on race and civil rights is legendary. In 1986, during the Reagan years, then-judicial nominee Sessions was denied a seat on the federal bench due to accusations of racial animosity toward blacks. Lawyers at the Justice Department and the US Attorney’s Office in Alabama had testified that Sessions called a black prosecutor a “boy” and warned him “to be careful what he said to white folks,” told a white civil rights attorney he was “a disgrace to his race,” and said the ACLU and the NAACP were “un-American” and “communist-inspired” organizations that “forced civil rights down the throats of people.”
Coretta Scott King even wrote a letter to Congress at the time, urging members to block his nomination because of his alleged malicious and fraudulent prosecution of civil rights activists when he was a US attorney in Alabama. And though Sessions denied these allegations, his nomination did not make it out of committee – notably in a Republican-controlled Senate.
Sessions’ supporters say he has changed since those allegations were made against him in the 1980s, but many – myself included – are still suspect.
During the 2016 campaign, Sessions was a devoted cheerleader for then-candidate Trump’s law and order, stop-and-frisk platform. Despite his controversial record, Sessions was confirmed for the position of America’s top prosecutor by the Senate.
And after he was confirmed, David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader, tweeted, “Thank God After 8 Horrible Years Of Black Radical Marxists We Finally Have An AG Who Will Defend Decent American People - Rather Than Thugs.”
In addition, the white nationalist website Daily Stormer applauded Sessions as “An Aggressive Anti-Black Racist,” predicting that “We’re Going To Get Absolutely Everything We Wanted.”
Sessions says he detests the Klan and white nationalism, and that all claims of racism are a distortion of the truth.
But so far Sessions has not disappointed his supporters. Although there is no evidence for it, he has attributed an increase in violent crime to a lack of respect for police officers, claiming “in recent years law enforcement as a whole has been unfairly maligned and blamed for the unacceptable deeds of a few bad actors.”
Further, Sessions has made it clear that he will take a step back and review the more than 20 consent decrees governing over 20 cities in the US. Consent decrees mean that these cities have agreed to work with the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, under court supervision, to overhaul their police departments, enact certain reforms and improve relations with their respective communities.
Sessions said he believes these consent decrees lower police morale, and he opposes the federal government’s role in “dictating to local police how to do their jobs – or spending scarce federal resources to sue them in court.”
But problems policing in America is not a matter of a few bad apples, as Sessions suggests, but a systemic issue in police culture and law enforcement practices. These tragic, senseless incidents, such as the killing of Jordan Edwards and Alton Sterling, are a reminder of this reality. And there are likely to be more, particularly if police feel they will not be prosecuted for using excessive or unwarranted force.
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There is no reason to believe that Sessions will do anything to reform plagued police departments, hold them accountable to the public or seek justice for the victims of police violence. Despite his image as being pro-police, he serves neither the police nor the communities they serve when he normalizes the festering wounds of police brutality and misconduct and the longstanding mistreatment of communities of color.
When innocent, unarmed honor students are shot, we have a problem.
But the new attorney general will not solve this problem – he will only make it worse, largely because he does not believe a problem exists.