The death of a black American teenager in 2014 triggered praiseworthy police reforms. But Donald Trump and his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, are now rolling them back. Was it all for nothing?
Michael Brown’s death moved America. On Aug. 9, 2014, the black teenager from Ferguson, Missouri, was shot by a white police officer. There were protests, debates, reforms. Police brutality against blacks became a huge topic, all the way up to the White House.
Three years later, the fury over the brutalization of African-Americans has fizzled politically, drowned out by the circus in Washington. At the same time, attacks often continue to go unpunished, and have even increased again, under the influence of a new state power, whose national conservative law-and-order agenda tramples all over the rights of non-white minorities.
“We’re losing the battle against police brutality in America,” concedes the prominent activist Shaun King in the New York Daily News.
Sure, there are glimpses of light. Delrish Moss, Ferguson’s new, black chief of police, is charming, trustworthy, engaged in communication and increasingly hiring African-American employees. Moss wants to improve the system, “for anyone who looks like me,” and he doesn’t sugarcoat anything. “We are far from being perfect, but we’re working on it.”*
Not voluntarily. After Brown’s death, the U.S. government under Barack Obama reviewed police districts across the country. Ferguson, it turned out, was no unique case. Discrimination, abuse of power and “systematic violence” against blacks were widespread. The Department of Justice forced more than 20 cities to enact reforms, including Chicago, Baltimore and Cleveland.
But the dying continues – it’s just that no one is watching now. In 2016, almost 1,000 Americans were shot by police officers, with many minority groups overrepresented. The hot spots are still the same. The NAACP recently issued a travel warning for Missouri, a first for a U.S. state.
And what is Sessions, the new attorney general, doing? He continues to speak of “the misdeeds of individual bad actors,” and turns back the reforms again. And no wonder. Sessions has long been accused of racism. Now he can finally realize his dream – and that of his boss Donald Trump – of a white police state.
And this is not just the trivialization of the assaults. Sessions has also just rejuvenated the “War on Drugs.” Once declared by Richard Nixon as a weapon against “those who opposed war and blacks,” this shadow war led to excessive punishment and mass incarceration.
Furthermore, Sessions has instructed federal prosecutors to push for mandatory minimum sentences, as they often concern African-Americans and allow for prisons to be managed by commercial private groups, which Obama had banned. Sessions was the first to appoint a former general as director of the State Bureau of Prisons, which oversees more than 190,000 prisoners.
Police against Trump
Distorted crime statistics from “inner cities” (a code for “black neighborhoods”) and horror reports on Latino gangs serve as a pretext. To this end, Trump, who still likes to bait his base with racist-tinged polemics, recently traveled to Long Island, where he blathered on about “blood-thirsty battlefields” and encouraged the police to aggressively double down.
Trump later acted as if he had just been joking, but the message was certainly well received by his target group, although not by countless police officers. The police officers bristled at this subliminal call to violence. That’s because most cities that have committed to enacting police reforms want these to continue under direction from the local government – without ministerial oversight – especially in the flash point areas of Chicago, Baltimore and Ferguson.
What an irony: The best hope against police brutality is – the police.
*Editor’s note: Although these remarks are accurately translated, they could not be independently verified.