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DOJ gets backlash from NAACP over settling cases without consent decrees

Cyril Josh Barker | 6/22/2017, 11:58 a.m.
The Department of Justice is getting backlash from the NAACP after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued guidance to the ...
Leon Russell, Chairman of the NAACP Board of Directors

The Department of Justice is getting backlash from the NAACP after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued guidance to the Civil Rights division to settle cases without using consent decrees.

The tool used by the DOJ is crucial, giving specific instructions in solving an issue brought to the Civil Rights division. For example, during the Barack Obama administration, some police departments in the nation were found to be engaging in patterns or practices of using force, including deadly force on citizens.

The DOJ forced the departments to make reforms along with monitoring and following up with departments to make sure they do so. Consent decrees have also been used in recent and past cases in the desegregation of public schools and with voter ID laws and gerrymandering.

In March, Sessions ordered a review of all consent decrees with police departments nationwide to make sure they were following President Donald Trump’s agenda.

“Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ order to Civil Rights division staff that they avoid using consent decrees—a historic tool to ensure business and local governments simply follow the rules—is another clear attempt to hurt the Black community by weakening the government’s ability to defend our civil liberties,” said Leon Russell, board chairman of the NAACP.

In April, Sessions said consent decrees are “dangerous” and an “end run around the democratic process.” Since his appointment by Trump, the DOJ has been reviewing all existing consent decrees.

“I do share your concern that these investigations and consent decrees have; they can turn bad. They can reduce morale of the police officers,” Sessions said during a radio interview. “They can push back against being out on the street in a proactive way. You know New York has proven community-based policing, this CompStat plan, the broken windows, where you’re actually arresting even people for smaller crimes—those small crimes turn into violence and death and shootings if police aren’t out there.”

Russell, like many other critics, believes the move by Sessions will not only not hold municipalities accountable but also could have negative effect on African-American citizens.

“Not only does this break away from decades of tradition, it’s just plain sneaky since the instructions were given verbally rather than written in a memo or email,” he said. “The NAACP is calling on the Trump administration to be more open and transparent about changes within the Justice Department’s Civil Rights division and to put protecting Americans first.”