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Taibbi writes: "People laughed when Donald Trump had to get Scott Baio to serve as an opening-day speaker at the Republican National Convention. But the Happy Days symbolism officially takes a darker turn with this Sessions news."

"It is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies," Jeff Sessions wrote in a memo last week. (photo: Michael B. Thomas/Getty)

For White America, It's 'Happy Days' Again

By Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

13 April 17


Jeff Sessions rolls the clock back on civil rights enforcement

wo recent news stories crossed like ships in the night, without much public discussion of how they were related.

Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered a review of all agreements between the Justice Department and local police departments around the country. Sessions wrote that "it is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies," and said the DOJ might "pull back" on federal oversight responsibilities under Donald Trump.

The news came after the revelation by the New York Daily News that Daniel Pantaleo – the officer who used a chokehold in the killing of Eric Garner – had repeatedly been disciplined by the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) prior to the Garner case. New York City had fought like a tiger to keep this information out of the public eye, and when it finally was released, it was only through an anonymous leak.

The story about Pantaleo shows why the Sessions story is so unsettling.

People laughed when Donald Trump had to get Scott Baio to serve as an opening-day speaker at the Republican National Convention. But the Happy Days symbolism officially takes a darker turn with this Sessions news. What Sessions is suggesting means literally going back to a Fifties-era conception of the Justice Department's role in preventing local police abuse.

If Sessions has his way, he will holster the most powerful weapon the government has in addressing tragedies like the Garner incident: federal civil rights laws.

The key statute is 18 USC 242, which gives the federal government the right to intervene if a person has been harmed by a "deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution."

An example of when this law comes into play would be a police murder in which the officer is acquitted in a sham trial by an unabashedly corrupt local government. The federal government is supposed to then use its powers to step in and file charges for civil rights violations, correcting the local wrong.

It took decades of hard-fought legal battles to get the government to actually use this tool.

Back in 1959, during the days that Donald Trump once recalled fondly to Michele Bachmann as the time when "even my Jews would say Merry Christmas," a deputy attorney general named William Rogers wrote a memo very similar in tone to the one Sessions just wrote. He declared that the federal government should not intervene in local controversies and file civil rights charges absent "compelling circumstances."

In practice, the Rogers memo meant that, provided there had been some kind of local due process, no matter how flawed, the feds wouldn't step in and take a second whack at an offender in a race killing or a police brutality case.

This prohibition against "dual prosecutions" was the law of the land for nearly 20 years. It didn't change until after an egregious incident involving an unarmed African-American man named Carnell Russ. In 1971, Russ was shot in the head by a policeman named Charles Lee Ratliff at point-blank range in Star City, Arkansas, after being pulled over for speeding.

Ratliff was acquitted in a joke of a trial in which an all-white jury in Star City took less than 15 minutes to deliberate. Years later, the NAACP sued the federal government – specifically the attorney general under Gerald Ford, Edward Levi – for failing to use its civil rights authority to investigate the obvious problems in the Russ case.

The case went before a Nixon-appointed judge named Barrington Parker, who would later become famous as the judge in the trial of would-be Reagan assassin John Hinckley. Parker was African-American. He ruled in the NAACP's favor. Although the federal government appealed, a deal was later struck between the NAACP and Jimmy Carter's attorney general, Griffin Bell, whereupon the federal government would look at "each and every allegation of a violation of the civil rights laws ... on its own merits."

The 1977 Bell memo gave birth to the modern civil rights investigation. That means it took until the late Seventies, over 110 years after the Civil War, for the government to finally accept its responsibility to police local police. That the federal government still needs to use those powers is self-evident. Just look at the Garner case and countless others like it, where local governments routinely fail to investigate and/or secure indictments against brutal cops.

After the Garner case, three out of four Americans believed there should be charges for Pantaleo. There were protests around the country, and the onslaught of high-profile brutality cases that followed – from Michael Brown in Ferguson to Tamir Rice in Cleveland to Walter Scott in North Charleston to Freddie Gray in Baltimore to Sandra Bland to Dajerria Becton, the 15 year-old girl in a bathing suit thrown to the ground by police in McKinney, Texas – led some people to hope that there would finally be some kind of national discussion on the issue that would result in positive changes.

With the Sessions news of last week, things have officially gone the other way. The Trump administration is pushing for steep cuts to the Justice Department budget, including the outright elimination of funding for the Legal Services Corporation and Violence Against Women grants, as well as slashing up to a third of the Civil Rights Division's budget.

Sessions has already hinted that he will stop investigating local police departments. Coupled with the budget cuts, we can probably expect the feds to get out of the business of policing cops entirely. Add cuts to legal services, and what we get is a clear message from the people who elected Trump: Their response to all of these awful films of local police beating or strangling or shooting unarmed black people is to worry that there's too much federal oversight of police, and too much advocacy for people who come in contact with police.

The facile conclusion to all of this is that white America wants to go back to the Fifties. But it's worse, and weirder, than that.

Seventy years ago, affluent white people could huddle in the suburbs, watch Leave It to Beaver, and pretend that cops weren't beating the crap out of people in East St. Louis or Watts or wherever the nearest black neighborhood was. But these days, the whole country regularly gawks at brutal cases of police violence on the Internet. Nobody can pretend it's not going on, but millions of people clearly don't want to do anything about it – just the opposite, in fact. They want more. Is this a twisted country, or what? your social media marketing partner


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+27 # Bruce Gruber 2017-04-13 09:21
"YouTube" and similar 'social media' will need policing if censorship of reality is the justice designed to ensure the figment of SUPERIORITY attributed to blinding whiteness.
+54 # wantrealdemocracy 2017-04-13 10:09
Twisted country? Or totally corrupt country?
While the white folks used to be doing pretty well before Billie and NAFTA----those days are over. The death rate of white working class men is rising by the year. These unemployed men drink them selves into oblivion (or the increasing use of pharmaceutical drugs) and die. The rich get richer, the wars go on and our democracy has been done away with by the "Honored Members of Congress"---too bad there is NO honor in that pack of greedy creatures.
-52 # Johnny 2017-04-13 10:16
"For White People, It's Happy Days...." Is that a twisted headline, or what? No. It's an egregiously stupid headline, and contradicts the text.
+51 # jwb110 2017-04-13 10:37
There are a bunch of "White Folk" that pass as this new 1950s mainstream but are in just as much danger as many people of a different, color, race, creed, national origin, political belief, and "other" thinking. No one is safe and only fools believe it to be so.
+67 # Citizen Mike 2017-04-13 11:18
The Republican Party stands for every kind of evil and harmful policy, and supports sickness for the poor, pollution, hunger for poor schoolkids, and war everywhere with enhanced civilian casualties, so of course they support police brutality and race murders.
+13 # CL38 2017-04-13 20:03
It's long past time to finally stand up to take away their power.
+50 # wrknight 2017-04-13 12:16
The American obsession with violence is obscene. The only time Americans object to violence is when it happens to them. When it happens to someone else, it's not only ok, it's prime time tv entertainment.
+17 # jussayin 2017-04-13 13:27
"Is this a twisted country, or what?"


We have a Constitution and Bill of Rights, and civil rights laws to protect us from tyranny, which was preserved with the sacrifices of many, and is now being trashed regularly.

Corporate media largely ignores this and enough people vote against their own best interests to make it possible for elections to be stolen.

Try pointing this out to them and they feel insulted or get downright hostile at your audacity.

Progressive values or socialist ideas which benefit them are treated with suspicion or derision. They embrace policies which harm them as long as those policies are couched in the right terms.
+16 # tedrey 2017-04-13 13:55
"It is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies".

Then the federal government will NOT force local agencies to enforce federal immigration laws? Glad to hear it,, Jeff!
+1 # randrjwr 2017-04-14 08:00
Quoting tedrey:
"It is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies".

Then the federal government will NOT force local agencies to enforce federal immigration laws? Glad to hear it,, Jeff!

In your dreams.
+8 # janie1893 2017-04-13 15:59
American obsession with violence is a learned behaviour, learned through the hours spent watching television and other electronic devices. We see far off wars, local killings and beatings of minorities and then we 'tune in to another reality TV program', finally confusing reality with fiction. We even elect presidents on the basis of this confusion. This truly is '1984'.
+2 # PeacefulGarden 2017-04-13 16:16
Excellent article! A good read!
+11 # Jaax88 2017-04-13 17:05
Here is a link to an article contrasting American policing with European countries
which experience much less police shootings and deaths than in America:

It makes one doubt that American policing is on the right track.
+21 # CL38 2017-04-13 20:01
"For White America, It's 'Happy Days' Again"

...not for whites who believe in Justice and who stand up for women, blacks, Native American rights and gays.
0 # heartofnests 2017-04-17 05:39
Jeff Sessions is another solo crusader in the ignoble fight to save white supremacy. Little do they know that ranking is no longer calculated by skin color or religion but by percentile ranking, as in .01% and .010, 001, etc. There are already towns with black mayors in the South and the world has moved on. The rodent-like features of his tiny face express precisely what is in his heart, all things predatory and destructive.

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