Law and Order, Under New Management

Heather Mac Donald, City Journal, March 1, 2017

 

President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired a double-shot of reality yesterday at the Black Lives Matter narrative about policing. Trump laid down broad markers for a change in law enforcement policy and tone from the White House during an address to a joint session of Congress. Sessions fleshed out more crime-policy details earlier that day in a speech to the National Association of Attorneys General. Together, both speeches provide hope for a significant turnaround in the nation’s rising violent-crime rate.

Trump’s promise to restore law and order was a centerpiece of his campaign. That theme drove the mainstream media and liberal politicians to a state of near apoplexy. Every time Trump brought attention to the increasing loss of black life in the Black Lives Matter era, the media responded that there was nothing to be concerned about, because crime rates were still below their early 1990s levels. President Barack Obama dismissed the rising inner-city carnage as a mere “blip” in a few cities. That “blip” in 2015, however, was the largest single-year increase in homicide—11 percent—in nearly half a century, as Trump pointed out last night. The victims were overwhelmingly black. Over 900 more black males were killed in 2015 compared with 2014. And the increase in street crime has not abated. The Brennan Center for Justice estimates that murders in the 30 largest U.S. cities were 14 percent higher in 2016 compared with 2015, a stunning increase coming on top of 2015’s already-massive homicide rise. While it is true that a two-decade-long violent-crime decline has not been wiped out in two years, if current trends continue, we could find ourselves back to the city-destroying anarchy of the early 1990s soon enough.

Last night, Trump refused to back down on his central civil rights concern: that “every American child should be able to grow up in a safe community.” The media have—astonishingly—called him a racist and Hitler for making that assertion. On the left, it is only acceptable to speak about the loss of a black life if a police officer is responsible.

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Attorney General Sessions offered a preliminary outline of Trump’s law enforcement policies. Sessions, until recently a senator from Alabama, celebrated the unforeseen conquest of crime that reclaimed many urban areas since the early 1990s. But he warned that “this progress is now at risk.” He noted that when crime rates start going in the wrong direction, bad momentum builds quickly on itself: felony rates doubled from the early 1960s to 1973, for example.

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Sessions denounced the drop in federal gun and drug prosecutions brought by federal attorneys. The drop was induced by the Obama administration’s claim that federal mandatory-minimum sentences for gun and drug crimes were racist and had led to the “mass incarceration” of minorities.

Most important, Sessions acknowledged that officers are backing away from proactive policing, under the influence of a narrative that maligns law enforcement as a whole “for the unacceptable deeds of a few bad actors,” as he put it. Morale has suffered because officers feel abandoned by the country’s “political leadership,” Sessions said.

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In the most far-reaching section of his speech, Sessions signaled a reversal of the Obama administration’s mania for slapping civil rights consent decrees on police agencies. Those decrees were based on a specious methodology for identifying police racism; they diverted scarce resources away from crime-fighting and into paper-pushing.

Sessions could have added one more crucial element to the Trump anti-crime program: compstating federal crime agencies, that is, introducing the commander accountability and intense information-sharing developed by the New York Police Department under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. But Sessions’ deeply informed speech, combined with Trump’s unapologetic support for law enforcement, mean that Americans in all parts of the country may eventually enjoy the same basic civil right: freedom from fear.

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