Attorney General Jeff Sessions isn't much interested in the "justice" side of the Department of Justice. Instead, it appears he'd like to throw on his letterman's jacket and head back to his glory days as a hard-nosed, 1980s-vintage drug warrior. Things were better when Sessions was a federal prosecutor in Alabama, ringing up drug convictions at a rate four times the national average.
The word "reactionary" is thrown around a lot when describing Trump and his cabinet. But in Sessions' case, the term fits. Violent crimes rates have fallen steadily since the mid-1990s. Meanwhile, drug prices have dropped and purity has increased, despite four decades of harsh enforcement and trillions of dollars being thrown at the problem. Devil weed -- gateway drug and longtime conspirator in the violation of American women by filthy non-whites -- is now a socially and medically-accepted drug, legal in several states.
But there are violent crime increases in a few major cities. He's not sure what's to blame for this potential historical blip, but he has several theories. It might be soft-on-drugs Obama-era policies embraced by his predecessor's DOJ. It might be a lack of respect for law enforcement, which Sessions feels is a failure of the American public, rather than the failures of those who serve them. It might be rambunctious legislators scaling back asset forfeiture all over the country. Whatever it is, the current course needs to be reversed and the policies that failed for multiple decades be allowed to fail again.
Where else would Sessions espouse his "brave new old world" plan than standing over the desiccated corpse of a federally-funded program that did fuck all to curb drug use by teens and tweens: the 30th D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) Training Conference.
We were in the beginning of this fight, in 1983, when DARE was founded in Los Angeles. I believe that DARE was instrumental to our success by educating children on the dangers of drug use. I firmly believe that you have saved lives. And I want to say thank you for that. Whenever I ask adults around age 30 about prevention, they always mention the DARE program. Your efforts work. Lives and futures are saved.
Sessions can believe anything he wants about the DARE program, but the fact is it had almost zero impact on reducing drug use by children. Multiple studies of the program suggest zero impact is the best possible outcome. At worst, the program was viewed as ridiculous by students and actually introduced them to substances they weren't previously aware of. It often inspired curiosity. It rarely inspired lifelong abstinence.
But Sessions wants a bigger, better drug war -- one not constrained by logic, compassion, or mountains of evidence showing the war has been a catastrophic failure. Sessions hints we need more violence from our law enforcers because drug dealers are violent.
We know drug trafficking is an inherently violent business. If you want to collect a drug debt, you can’t, and don’t, file a lawsuit in court. You collect it by the barrel of a gun. There is no doubt that violence tends to rise with increased drug dealing.
As Scott Greenfield pointed out, if drugs were legal, you could file a lawsuit to recover debts -- a process far less likely to result in dead bodies.
Stats are spun to fit the narrative:
Sentences for federal drug crimes dropped by 18 percent from 2009 to 2016. Violent crime—which had been decreasing for two decades—suddenly went up again. Two years after this policy change, the United States suffered the largest single-year increase in the overall violent crime rate since 1991.
And yet, the violent crime rate remains at historic lows. Sessions sees a spike as a trend even though the numbers don't agree with him. In another speech, he specifies which year he's referring to:
In 2015, we as a nation suffered the largest single-year increase in the violent crime rate since 1991, and the largest jump in the murder rate since 1968.
But even the FBI can't buttress the AG's dark narrative.
According to the report, there were an estimated 1,197,704 violent crimes committed around the nation. While that was an increase from 2014 figures, the 2015 violent crime total was 0.7 percent lower than the 2011 level and 16.5 percent below the 2006 level.
The Sessions Drug War Wagon plows on, focused on preaching to the converted and riling up the most ignorant legislators and voters. At event after event, Sessions does everything but hand out laced Kool Aid and visions of a heavily-policed afterlife. Facts are out; verbal y-axis distortions are in.
The preliminary data for the first half of 2016 showed further increases, with large cities seeing an average increase in murders of nearly 22 percent compared with the same period the year before.
This spike in violent crime is not happening in every neighborhood or city. But the trend is real and should concern us all. It must not continue.
A spike is a trend in the eyes of AG Sessions, whose narrative conflicts with the FBI's findings. This is a spike -- compared year-to-year -- but one that can't even bring crime levels back to where they were a decade ago, much less the sky-high rates of the 80s and 90s when Sessions was prosecuting the hell out of Alabama.
Hence the return of asset forfeiture, presumably with enough force to overcome legislative resistance. From the same speech to the National District Attorneys Association:
In addition, we hope to issue this week a new directive on asset forfeiture—especially for drug traffickers. With care and professionalism, we plan to develop policies to increase forfeitures. No criminal should be allowed to keep the proceeds of their crime. Adoptive forfeitures are appropriate as is sharing with our partners.
Sessions mentions criminals, but criminal charges have never been an integral part of the forfeiture process. The government likes taking stuff, but has less of an interest in proving the property owner is actually a criminal.
A new era of punitive justice is upon us. One that prefers prosecutions to prevention and harsh sentences to deterrents less likely to permanently ruin someone's life.
I recently sent out my directive on charging and sentencing. It is sound law and policy. Assistant U.S. Attorneys will simply be expected to charge the most serious readily provable offense. If that would be unjust, prosecutors can seek a waiver approval from a designated supervisor without Washington.
In short, we have ended the policies that handcuffed our federal prosecutors.
There will apparently be enough handcuffs for everyone else.
This is a frustrating turn of events. The new DOJ will elevate law enforcement officers and prosecutors above the people they serve. Everything that didn't work for three decades straight will be making a comeback. And if that fails to turn things around, I'm guessing it will be blamed on the media, anti-police sentiment, or whatever convenient scapegoat happens to be on hand when the blowback begins.
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