In his inaugural address, President Donald Trump painted a dark picture of America, a nation where “crime and gangs and drugs” are causing “American carnage” in its cities.
A new report by the Brennan Center for Justice lists ways in which Trump’s vision of America, along with policies put forth by his administration, could lead to widespread rollbacks in criminal justice reform.
“Trump’s dark portrait of America, however, comes at a time when the national crime rate is near historic lows ― 42 percent below what it was in 1997,” the report reads. “As his first 100 days near an end, what has the president done to address crime and criminal justice? And what can the country expect in the weeks and months ahead?”
Here are highlights from the Brennan Center report:
1) Fear mongering to justify a return to tough-on-crime policies
Trump often presented himself as a “law and order” candidate in his campaign. The report says that Trump’s logic in warning of a supposed rise in crime is linked to his immigration stance.
He has painted calls for police reform as “anti-law enforcement.” Trump accused the Black Lives Matter movement of stoking violence against police after five officers were killed in Dallas. Trump also supports re-implementing “stop and frisk,” a policy that violates the constitutional rights of citizens by allowing unwarranted police searches ― particularly of Blacks and Latinos.
“Trump and his new attorney general, Jeff Sessions, insist that they must ‘Make America Safe Again,’ citing outside forces that have brought in drugs and violence – justifying a travel ban, a border wall with Mexico and mass deportations,” the report reads.
Trump has already signed three executive orders expanding the powers of federal law enforcement agencies.
2) DOJ has moved to stop policing the police
Sessions is cynical of widespread police reform and civil rights investigations into departments. He has spoken out against consent decrees and sees “bad apples” as the reason for police misconduct rather than systemic failures. To Sessions, the government shouldn’t be “dictating to local police how to do their jobs” or dishing out “scarce federal resources” to sue cities.
Under Sessions, the Justice Department will “pull back” on investigations that he believes diminish the effectiveness of police departments. The Brennan Center report also notes that local police departments could evolve into a way for the government to enforce its immigration policies in sanctuary cities.
3) Possible return to war on drugs and ’90s crime policies
Sessions might require federal prosecutors to seek the most extreme charge in every case they try, which could lead to the revival of mandatory minimum laws for relatively low-level, nonviolent offenses.
“Since taking office, Sessions has given several speeches calling for a return to harsher federal charging policies, and issued memoranda directing U.S. attorneys to stand by for such major policy shifts,” the report says.
“Sessions could revoke key [Eric] Holder-era initiatives, directing federal prosecutors to pursue maximum penalties in drug cases even in states where marijuana is legal…the administration has shown interest in expanding treatment options for opioid addiction, which disproportionately affects white, rural communities, while increased marijuana prosecutions would more affect communities of color.”