The Corner

Politics & Policy

On the DOJ’s Review of Obama-Era Consent Decrees

Public discourse on race is frequently, and increasingly, detached from facts. Exhibit No. 3,714 is the statement issued by the U.S.Commission on Civil Rights (from which my colleague Gail Heriot and I dissented) expressing concern about a memorandum issued by Attorney General Jeff Sessions directing the Justice Department to immediately review all consent decrees and compliance reviews affecting police departments to ensure that they appropriately support state, local, and tribal law enforcement.

The Commission majority “is troubled that this action sends a message to communities across the country that reform agreements, urgently needed and in some instances already agreed to by the respective police departments and municipalities involved, may be in jeopardy.”

Setting aside for a moment the question of how a mere directive to review investigations and consent decrees necessarily jeopardizes such investigations and decrees, the Commission majority asserts, unequivocally, that these investigations and decrees “have made for better policing in communities served by law enforcement.”

Perhaps. But it depends on the definition of “better.”

As Heather Mac Donald has shown time and again, there’s copious evidence that the intrusive, politically correct Obama-era decrees have contributed to the “Ferguson effect,” i.e., steep increases in crime due to the restraints and disincentives contained in such decrees. In Baltimore, where both city officials and the Obama administration came down on the city’s cops after the Freddie Gray incident, violent crime has soared to record levels. Shootings are up nearly 80 percent over last year. The number of shootings in parts of Chicago resemble those in failed states.

Most of the investigations and decrees are due to alleged patterns of civil-rights abuses by police departments. Of course, abuses exist. But the Obama administration began with the assumption that racial disparities in arrests and police interactions with the community were necessarily the result of racial discrimination and without a rational basis.

That assumption is, in a word, idiotic. In almost every instance racial disparities in law enforcement are due to higher crime rates among blacks. In fact, in some areas arrest rates for blacks are actually lower than would be predicted by black crime rates.

It would be charitable to suggest these decrees are solely or even mainly a product of mathematical incompetence. Narrative maintenance and power arrogation also have roles. And facts must never be allowed to get in the way of a useful narrative.

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