March 31, 2017
Attorney General Jeff Sessions threatens to destroy the reform efforts championed by his predecessor and create an environment in which police and courts can once again act with impunity towards low income communities of color. As an illustration of his intentions to protect police and prosecutors from outside scrutiny, he will speak to a private audience made up solely of police and prosecutors on Friday morning in St. Louis, in the very courthouse where the Department of Justice seeks enforcement of its consent decree against the City of Ferguson for its pattern and practice of systematically violating the civil rights of poor people and black people through police and courts. This is yet another clear indication of his dangerously one-sided approach to our legal system and to criminal justice.
Our region cannot be misled by his exploitative crime control rhetoric which invokes panic, perpetuates state violence, dismantles families of color and the poor, and ultimately devastates our communities.
Police courts, and jails in St. Louis have disproportionately targeted, harassed, arrested, and illegally jailed thousands of poor and Black people while generating millions of dollars in revenue from minor traffic and municipal ordinance violations. After Mike Brown was murdered, people not only protested the police killing of an unarmed black man, but also decades of police misconduct and abuse, and civil rights violations including the resurgence of modern day debtors’ prisons. Protesters in Ferguson were brutalized by a militarized police state equipped with tear gas, armored vehicles, and military grade rifles.
In our region, police and courts have completely eroded people’s trust in the legal system.
While his twenty year record in the Senate previewed his indifference towards state violence and the criminalization of the poor, he has spent his first two months as Attorney General implementing and enforcing policies that oppose and threaten our most basic rights.
In stepping back from pattern and practice investigations of police departments, vulnerable communities no longer have a national agency to hold law enforcement accountable for civil rights violations. Cities have been forced to report undocumented immigrants or lose funding. Further, Jeff Sessions’ DOJ withdrew longstanding support for litigation aimed at protecting the voting rights of minorities in Texas.
Local organizations, activists, lawyers, and advocates must be ready to answer the question: what are you willing to do? What will you do to resist threatening policies that tear families apart and lock people in cages simply because they are poor? What are you going to do to combat policies that exacerbate deep, intergenerational poverty, disproportionately in communities of color?
We must be prepared to combat this attempt to collapse people’s most basic rights. Whether it is an attack on our First Amendment right to protest, voting rights, immigrant rights, or the rights of LGBTQ communities.
Under Jeff Sessions, we are going backwards. He has rallied law enforcement around highly charged and unfounded ‘tough on crime’ messaging in order to distract from the real issues at hand: the racism, poverty, and inequity that has plagued police-community relations since the country’s founding.
Z. Gorley, Communications Director at ArchCity Defenders