What Jeff Sessions Gets Wrong About Cops and Civil Rights

February 28th 2017

Kyle Jaeger

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday that the Justice Department would "pull back" from investigations into police departments accused of violating civil rights. Instead, Sessions said, the department will focus on empowering police to combat violent crime, which he claimed — inaccurately — was rising.


"We need, so far as we can, to help police departments get better — not diminish their effectiveness," Sessions told state attorneys general. "And I'm afraid we've done some of that."

He also said that the policy would not be "wrong or insensitive to civil rights or human right[s]," despite civil rights organizations leading the call for federal investigations into departments accused of improper use of force or racial bias, for example.

This tweet thread from Campaign Zero co-founder Samuel Sinyangwe highlights the problem with Sessions' position.

Though Sessions has conceded he's only read summaries of Justice Department reports that followed investigations into police departments in New York City, Chicago, and Ferguson, Missouri, he complained that "[s]ome of it was pretty anecdotal and not so scientifically based."

Those investigations did contain numerous anecdotes revealing “routinely abusive behavior,” a “pattern or practice of excessive force,” and racial bias within the Chicago, as USA Today’s Brad Heath pointed out in a tweet. But the idea that there's no scientific, non-anecdotal evidence that these issues are systemic is not supported by research.

A 2015 study published in the journal PLOS One found that unarmed black men are more than three times as likely to be shot by police than unarmed white men, for example. Another analysis of policing data in four states, conducted by The New York Times in 2015, determined that black drivers had their cars searched 1.5 to 5.2 times more than white drivers.

The scientific evidence that there's a problem of racist policing has been mounting, Sinyangwe said. What doesn't add up is Sessions' claim that there is a "permanent rising crime trend" in the U.S. that justifies pumping the brakes on federal investigations.

There was a rise in violent crime in 30 major cities, with the murder rate nearly doubling in those cities last. But overall, both violent crimes and property offenses have plummeted since reaching a peak in 1993, according to the Pew Research Center — a point that seems to have evaded President Donald Trump and several members of his administration.


"Trump / Sessions are making policy based on assumption and anecdotes while dismissing the scientific evidence on racism and police violence," Sinyangwe tweeted.