by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
Donald Trump is unlikely to approve of any more “consent decrees” to “reform” police departments. But this will be no great loss. As practiced, “the scheme very much resembles former Attorney General Holder’s coddling of criminal banks, under which the offending institutions were fined, but not criminally charged or compelled to admit guilt.” In most cities, police killings of Blacks actually increased or stayed the same after federal intervention.
Trump Will Probably Dump Police Department “Consent Decrees”
by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
“The decrees do little or nothing to address the core issue of killer cops.”
The new president is threatening to bring the Wrath of Trump down on Chicago, to “fix the horrible ‘carnage’ going on” in that city’s streets, where shootings are up over the same time period of 2016, a year that marked the highest death toll in two decades. Trump tweeted that he might “send in the Feds,” prompting some pundits to raise the specter of martial law.
Trump seems to be expounding on his inaugural address, in which he cited “the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage,” he said, “stops right here and stops right now.”
Trump may favor a relaxation in tensions with Russia, but there can be no doubt about his commitment to a permanent state of war with Black America. Although Trump has not labeled Black Lives Matter a “terrorist organization, more than 100,000 of his supporters sent a petition to that effect to the Obama White House back in July, and Trump surrogate David Clarke, the Black Sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, called Black Lives Matter “one of the most destructive groups to the well-being and justice for black Americans that exist today.”
Candidate Trump has entertained the possibility of a federal probe of the movement. "I have seen them marching down the street essentially calling death to the police and I think we're going to have to look into that," he told Bill O’Reilly, last summer. Asked if he would instruct the Justice Department to explore criminal charges against Black Lives Matter, Trump replied:
“When you see something like that taking place -- that's really a threat, if you think about it. And when you see something like that taking place, we are going to have to perhaps talk with the Attorney General about it or do something. But, at a minimum, we're going to have to be watching because that's really bad stuff and it's happened more than once."
“Such monitoring is reminiscent of the surveillance of the Black Panther Party.”
The Obama administration had been closely -- and unconstitutionally – watching Black Lives Matter since its emergence as a national phenomenon in Ferguson, Missouri, two and a half years ago. Human rights lawyers filed suit against the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, in October, demanding release of documents detailing the agencies’ surveillance against movement activists. “Such monitoring is reminiscent of the surveillance of the Black Panther Party, which was a target of the FBI’s notorious illegal COINTELPRO program,” according to a statement by the Center for Constitutional Rights.
When it comes to suppressing insurgent tendencies among Black people, the National Security State and the Mass Black Incarceration State share a common mission, no matter which side of the duopoly is in power. Trump can be counted on to shout his hostility to the movement, while Obama attempted to seduce it. These are merely differences in the public personas of politicians. But the police state goes about its business -- surveiling and jailing – at its own, methodical pace. There is good reason to fear that punishment for political offenses will become harsher under a Trump regime. However, resisters in Ferguson and Baltimore have already been singled out for draconian sentences under the First Black President.
What is almost certain to change, under Trump, is the federal policy of enticing cities to accept court-overseen “consent decrees” prescribing a schedule of “reform” of their police departments. That’s what Trump’s predecessors meant by “calling in the Feds.”
“There is good reason to fear that punishment for political offenses will become harsher under a Trump regime.”
The U.S. Congress first empowered the federal government to seek consent decrees from jurisdictions with abusive police departments at the urging of Republican President George Herbert Walker Bush, following the Los Angeles “Rodney King” rebellion of 1992, which resulted in 55 deaths, over 2,000 injuries, 6,345 arrests and more than $1 billion in property damages. Since then, the Justice Department was entered into scores of consent decrees with cities around the country.
Essentially, the federal government agrees NOT to sue these jurisdictions for violating the civil rights of their citizens, in return for promises of reform. The scheme very much resembles former Attorney General Eric Holder’s coddling of criminal banks, under which the offending institutions were fined, but not criminally charged or compelled to admit guilt. The effects have been similar, as well. A 2015 Washington Post/Frontline investigation of cities that had been placed under federal consent decrees showed that:
“In five of the 10 police departments for which sufficient data was provided, use of force by officers increased during and after the agreements. In five others, it stayed the same or declined.
None of the departments completed reforms by the targeted dates, the review found. In most, the interventions have dragged years beyond original projections, driving up costs.”
In short, the decrees do little or nothing to address the core issue of killer cops, but are a quite useful diversion, stretching out the placebo process over years.
“Consent decrees are tools of diversion and delay -- one of the racist status quo’s tricks to wear down and outlast social movements.”
No federal administration, Republican or Democrat, has used its authority under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which allows the Justice Department to cut off federal funds to any program or agency that discriminates, including police departments -- a prominent demand of Chicago Black Lives Matter activists.
The presidential transition has left consent decree negotiations in limbo in Chicago and Baltimore, causing great anxiety in traditional civil rights circles. But the truth is, consent decrees are tools of diversion and delay -- one of the racist status quo’s tricks to wear down and outlast social movements. The movement’s job is to liberate the community from a policing system whose mission is to contain, control, terrorize and criminalize an entire people – what Michelle Alexander calls The New Jim Crow. The goal is self-determination, which is a fundamental right of all peoples. Obama didn’t recognize that right, and neither does Trump. On this issue, nothing has changed except the color of the president’s hat.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at [email protected].