One of President Trumps first actions upon taking office was to sign three Executive Orders to direct his administration to crack down on criminal gangs, reduce violent crime and fight crime against police.
Now that Jeff Sessions has settled in as attorney general, the Department of Justice is beginning to become staffed and early indications of the policies he will apply to accomplish these goals are taking shape.
One thing is clear, as described by Spencer Hsu in the Washington Post, the preeminent goals in this area are both “combating violent crime and promoting police safety and morale.”
On April 10, Attorney General Sessions announced he was shutting down an Obama administration National Commission on Forensic Science under the guise of seeking public comments on how to advance police use of forensic sciences after letting the commission’s mandate expire. The purpose of the commission was to provide critical analysis of flawed forensic procedures used by law enforcement.
This follows a March 31 announcement by Sessions ordering the Justice Department to review prior consent agreements between the Department’s Civil Rights Division and local police departments regarding improper use of deadly force and other practices resulting in civil right violations.
As reported by the Washington Post, “Sessions has often criticized the effectiveness of consent decrees and has vowed in recent speeches to more strongly support law enforcement.”
These two developments underscore the emerging Sessions Doctrine that holding police accountable for unconstitutional behavior is bad for police morale and consequently hampers their efforts to fight violent crime.
In line with these developments, the Washington Post has reported that Sessions has appointed Steven H. Cook, formerly the President of the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys as “one of his top lieutenants to help undo the criminal justice policies of Obama and former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr.”
While many have criticized the aggressive incarceration practiced by the criminal justice system before Obama and Holder began a period of reform, Cook took a different perspective—to him, the system was working and working well.
Now brought into the Justice Department, Cook is said to be working on plans to “prosecute more drug and gun cases and pursue mandatory minimum sentences.” In other words, Sessions and Cook want to return to the drug war days of the 1980s and 1990s.
Cook believes massive incarceration is needed to protect communities from drugs and crime, and has called Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a prominent critic of these policies, an “anti-law enforcement group.”
“If hard-line means that my focus is on protecting communities from violent felons and drug traffickers, then I’m guilty,” Cook said in a recent interview with the Post. “I don’t think that’s hard-line. I think that’s exactly what the American people expect of their Department of Justice.”
Sessions has asked a task-force to review existing department marijuana policies, and federal anti-pot efforts are dramatically constrained by state-level legalization and related reforms, as well as by public opinion in favor of medical marijuana.
But even here, Sessions has ramped up his rhetoric, announcing in a speech in Richmond, Virginia that medical marijuana “has been hyped, maybe too much” and adding his opinion that “psychologically, politically, morally, we need to say—as Nancy Reagan said—‘Just say no.’”
Charles M. Blow looked at these and other Trump administration actions in a New York Times piece titled “100 Days of Horror.” After reporting on the Sessions and Cook embrace of mass incarceration, Blow concludes that: “The clock is being turned back. Vulnerable populations are under relentless attack by this administration. This is a war, and that is not hyperbole or exaggeration… the administration is busy rebuilding and reinforcing the architecture of oppression in plain sight.”
Marijuana legalization currently had the greatest public support ever.
However, the Trump administration is a minority government, a reactionary movement, on a crusade to turn back the clock to days when their political supporters enjoyed and exercised greater control over American society.
Remember, they “want their country back.” When it comes to criminal justice issues in general, and drug policies issues specifically, they are preparing to unleash the dogs of war.