Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions indicated on Tuesday that the federal government would back away from monitoring troubled police departments, which was the central strategy of the Obama administration to force accountability onto local law enforcement amid rising racial tensions.
In his first speech as attorney general, Mr. Sessions did not name any specific cities, but he indicated that Justice Department scrutiny from afar was undermining the effectiveness of the police across the country. It was a clear reference to the aggressive efforts of the Obama administration to oversee law enforcement agencies charged with civil rights abuses.
“We need, so far as we can, in my view, help police departments get better, not diminish their effectiveness,” Mr. Sessions said in remarks to the National Association of Attorneys General. “And I’m afraid we’ve done some of that. So we’re going to try to pull back on this, and I don’t think it’s wrong or mean or insensitive to civil rights or human rights.”
The Trump administration, Mr. Sessions said, is working “out of a concern to make the lives of people in particularly the poor communities, minority communities, live a safer, happier life so that they’re able to have their children outside and go to school in safety and they can go to the grocery store in safety and not be accosted by drug dealers and get caught in crossfires or have their children seduced into some gang.”
“One of the big things out there that’s, I think, causing trouble and where you see the greatest increase in violence and murders in cities is somehow, some way, we undermine the respect for our police and made, oftentimes, their job more difficult,” he said.
A rise in violence in some large cities, including Chicago, Baltimore and St. Louis, drove a 10.8 percent increase in murders nationwide in the most recent data from the F.B.I. last September. Even so, crime remains far below the 1970s and 1980s, when drugs and gang violence drove crime rates to new heights, and some Democrats accuse Mr. Trump and Mr. Sessions of exaggerating the threat.
At a time when other, more libertarian conservatives had begun to embrace critiques of the criminal-justice system, each man saw crime as yet another way that the fabric of society was deteriorating. While Bannon was chief executive, Breitbart created a specific tag for articles called “black crime” and ran article after article demonizing the Black Lives Matter movement (calling protesters “blood-lusting junkies”) and showing Latino immigrants as violent (“One Sex Offender Illegal Alien Caught After Another Alleged Offender Legalized”).
The site also frequently covered Jefferson Beauregard Sessions’s condemnations of criminal-justice reform. Opposing a bipartisan bill to reduce sentences for some nonviolent drug offenses, Sessions said last May that Republican supporters of the legislation “in no way represent the conservative movement” and warned against “signing death warrants for thousands of American innocent citizens.”
As the Republican primary season progressed, it became clear to Sessions and Bannon that Trump could be the vessel for their brand of Republicanism. Back in August 2015, Bannon emailed a friend, according to The Daily Beast, that while he felt good about other candidates like Ted Cruz, he was ready to pick Trump, because he was “a nationalist who embraces” Sessions’s immigration plan. Six months later, Sessions became the first senator to endorse Trump for president. Last August, Sessions helped create a new immigration policy for Trump, which called for reducing immigration by, among other things, tightening the rules about visas for high-skilled workers.
Their shared view was central to Trump’s Inaugural Address, which, according to The Wall Street Journal, Bannon and Miller principally wrote. For a president taking office amid peacetime and economic growth, the speech offered a singularly dark vision. Trump spoke of “American carnage” — a country made increasingly dangerous by “the crime and the gangs and the drugs,” its economy ravaged by production abroad, its borders infiltrated by marauders. The speech was a perfect distillation of the foreboding view of America broadcast by Breitbart — a land in disarray and decline that has reached the point of crisis.
In fact, violent crime has been declining sharply for 25 years; with a small uptick in 2015, it remains low. The number of undocumented immigrants has fallen slightly in the last decade, and these newcomers are less likely to commit violent crimes than people who were born here. Evidence shows that immigrants are an engine of economic growth and entrepreneurship. While they take a small bite out of the wages of native-born workers without a high school diploma, they provide an overall boost to productivity that increases the pay of more educated workers by up to 10 percent, labor economists say. As for the “totalitarian threat” that, according to Sessions, Americans face from radical Islam, since Sept. 11, white supremacists and other non-Muslim extremists have killed nearly twice as many Americans as radical Muslims, according to the New America Foundation.
“Trump went out of his way to select an attorney general who had a history of hostility” to immigrants’ rights, minority protections and other issues, said David Cole, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union who testified in the Senate against Mr. [Jefferson Beauregard] Sessions’s nomination. “Thus far, all signs are that Sessions is playing to type.”
Meanwhile, the department’s reversal of its legal policy this week in a major voting case in Texas signals that other voting rights cases could be in peril, as well.