Two recent news stories crossed like ships in the night, without much public discussion of how they were related.
Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered a review of all agreements between the Justice Department and local police departments around the country. Sessions wrote that « it is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies, » and said the DOJ might « pull back » on federal oversight responsibilities under Donald Trump.
The news came after the revelation by the New York Daily News that Daniel Pantaleo – the officer who used a chokehold in the killing of Eric Garner – had repeatedly been disciplined by the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) prior to the Garner case. New York City had fought like a tiger to keep this information out of the public eye, and when it finally was released, it was only through an anonymous leak.
The story about Pantaleo shows why the Sessions story is so unsettling.
People laughed when Donald Trump had to get Scott Baio to serve as an opening-day speaker at the Republican National Convention. But the Happy Days symbolism officially takes a darker turn with this Sessions news. What Sessions is suggesting means literally going back to a Fifties-era conception of the Justice Department’s role in preventing local police abuse.
If Sessions has his way, he will holster the most powerful weapon the government has in addressing tragedies like the Garner incident: federal civil rights laws.