ACLU bites back at Sessions for spreading misinformation about Baltimore’s consent decree

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Jeff Sessions at a Trump campaign rally. Photo by Gage Skidmore, via Wikimedia Commons.

In a speech before law enforcement officers Wednesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions denounced consent decrees as a contributor to rising crime in American cities like Chicago and Baltimore, where those court orders requiring police departments to fix complex internal issues have been implemented to confront corruption and discrimination by officers.

He also disseminated misinformation about Baltimore’s own consent decree, which attorneys from the city and the Department of Justice–the group Sessions is now in charge of–spent months negotiating in late 2016 and early 2017, by erroneously saying it was forged between the city and the American Civil Liberties Union, a civil rights group.

Running with that detail, the attorney general went on to say the court-ordered agreement led police to conduct fewer field interviews and make fewer arrests, and allowed for bumps in crimes like murder, rape, car theft and aggravated assault. One of his claims that rapes “more than tripled” in the city from 2014 to 2017 was also incorrect, though they did increase 51 percent, from 249 in 2014 to 375 in 2017.

In a release today, the ACLU of Maryland condemned Sessions’ misinformation about the consent decree as  “dangerous lies.” The organization said that in making his argument, Sessions ignored the DOJ’s own findings that Baltimore police had committed civil rights violations against citizens for years, as well as the documented rampant corruption among the infamous Gun Trace Task Force, whose members have since been convicted of racketeering.

In a statement, ACLU of Maryland executive director Dana Vickers Shelley compared Sessions’ spreading of false information to acts by his boss, President Donald Trump, who’s been caught fibbing or rewriting history more than a few times.

“He’s wrong and he knows he’s wrong,” Shelley said. “Session’s [sic.] dog whistle politics invokes the decades old ‘law and order’ trope to stir up the conservative base, wrongfully brandishing civil rights organizations like the ACLU and Black Lives Matter, who fight for fair, constitutional treatment, as the perpetrators of crime.”

“We reject the cynical, dangerous, and racist idea that requiring the police to not assault, steal from, and racially profile Black and Brown people somehow makes America less safe.”

Sessions’ office has not responded to a request for comment on his incorrect remarks.

The attorney general’s staff notably pushed to delay the enactment of the consent decree—an effort undertaken by President Barack Obama’s DOJ as he was leaving office—by requesting a 90-day delay and additional time for review. U.S. District Court of Maryland Judge James Bredar bucked at those attempts, instead signing the 227-page agreement in April 2017. “The time for negotiating the agreement is over,” he wrote in an official order.

Under watch from a monitoring team, police have since been implementing mandated reforms for the last year and a half (former Police Commissioner Kevin Davis also said many times that said reforms were underway even before the decree was signed). Most recently, an August report from police about their staffing situation–a step required by the consent decree–found the agency has the budgeted positions for patrol, but had not filled more than 300, or around 27 percent, of those vacancies across nine districts.

For his part, Sessions is under the gun after a year and a half of serving as the top law enforcement official in the country. In an interview this week with The Hill, Trump said he was disappointed with Sessions’ tenure so far. “I don’t have an attorney general,” the president said. “It’s very sad.”

Ethan McLeod
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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in Baltimore City Paper, Leafly, DCist and BmoreArt, among other outlets. He enjoys basketball, humid Mid-Atlantic summers and story tips.
Ethan McLeod
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