Throughout the last presidential administration the Department of Justice has played an important role in implementing changes within the LA County Jail system. From stepping up the treatment of mentally ill prisoners to the probe into jail abuse that eventually led to the convictions of both former Sheriff Baca and Undersheriff Tanaka, the Justice Department has been one of the only departments to even scratch the service of “policing the police.”
Now Jeff Sessions is heading it.
Jeff Sessions has a long history of opposing civil rights, and particularly the civil rights of Black people. In four short months he’s already established himself as a champion of law enforcement, no matter the circumstance. When speaking to a group of federal, state, and local law enforcement in Long Island on April 28th he made his stance clear by saying “This is the Trump era – so you can be confident that this nation’s leadership has your back.”
Despite the fact that he continuously uses terms like aliens and thugs in his speeches, has rolled back protections for transgender students in schools, is actively targeting non-documented people for deportation, and is unapologetically pro-law enforcement, he somehow heads the nation’s DOJ Civil Rights Division.
After a series of investigations into the LA County jails by the Civil Rights Division dating back to 1996, a failed memorandum of agreement, and a lawsuit settlement, everything culminated in 2015 when the DOJ reached a “wide-ranging and court-enforceable agreement to protect prisoners from serious suicide risks and excessive force in the largest jail system in the country.” These reforms were designed to prevent and respond more effectively to suicides and self-inflicted injuries and address use of force through multiple detailed measures. However, this settlement (aka consent decree) only works if it is enforced by the DOJ.
Which it clearly is not…
In 2015 use of force in the jails went up 40%, and recently even the department’s own Inspector General has come out saying there is no updated data on the sheriff’s departments’ use of force. And as for suicide attempts, there have already been nine deaths that we know of in 2017.
As of last month Jeff Sessions has ordered the DOJ to review all existing consent decrees, including the much-needed one in LA County, because, in his words, consent decrees between the federal government and local police departments can “reduce morale of the police officers.”
While the world is focused on Trump (for good reason), as abolitionists we must focus on Jeff Sessions and not let him carry out his discriminatory policies and build his militarized white supremacist police state under the radar. All eyes on the Department of Justice. And that includes Thomas Wheeler II, who currently heads the Civil Rights Division and already has a history of proposing hateful laws and giving questionable speeches.
To stop use of force, to stop the suicide epidemic, to stop the PIC, we must stop Jeff Sessions.
Director of Health and Wellness Mark-Anthony Johnson said it best last week in the Sacramento Bee:
He’s advancing a narrative that Black communities are violent; also that law enforcement is losing the morale and that’s a danger to public safety. That’s a very dangerous combination.
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