In the chaotic first few months of the Trump administration, it’s been easy to lose track of what the GOP has been doing behind the scenes to undermine American civil liberties. With the nation’s gaze fixed on the GOP’s effort to gut Obamacare, Russian intrigue in the White House, and Trump’s tweets du jour, the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has quietly laid out his vision for the future of federal law enforcement, and it’s terrifying.
While still short on specific policy changes, Sessions has made it clear that he plans to resuscitate the harsh sentencing laws that have given the United States the world’s highest incarceration rate.
Alarmed by Session’s mass incarceration agenda, former national security adviser Colin Powell, who has emerged as a leading figure in the fight for justice and the protection of civil rights, issued a strong warning to the Attorney General saying he intends to keep a close eye on how the criminal justice system changes under the Trump administration.
Addressing Jeff Sessions’ plan to de-emphasize police reform during an interview with Mic.com on Tuesday, the former secretary of state to George W. Bush urged communities most impacted by policing and incarceration to speak up about the issue.
“It depends on what he does with his review of the consent [decree] agreements,” Powell said referring to the Justice Department policing regulations intended to address systemic discrimination and abuse by police officers. “I mean, he will have to deal with each state and each community and he’ll have to deal with the public. I’ll be watching this very, very closely.”
“So, let’s just watch very carefully and, if people think that what he’s doing is inconsistent with what we need to be doing, then we will speak out,” Powell told the website.
Powell, who has since turned his focus to domestic issues concerning children and young adults, marked the 20th year of America’s Promise Alliance, an initiative connecting youth with mentors and resources to help them thrive into adulthood, at a New York City summit on Tuesday, that featured former President Bill Clinton and rapper-actor Common.
“Young people are coming into contact with the criminal justice system at too young of an age,” Powell said, “and the government has a role to play in preventing it.”
In an op-ed for the USA Today on Monday, Sessions called the policing reform agreements recently negotiated in Ferguson, Missouri; Cleveland and Baltimore; among others, a “harmful federal intrusion in the daily work of local police.” The attorney general claimed that consent decrees have opened the door for an uptick in violence.
Powell, who as founder and chairman of America’s Promise Alliance has convened national leaders on education and juvenile justice, said he is particularly concerned about a byproduct of decades of investment in law enforcement and policing: mass incarceration.
— Aaron L. Morrison (@aaronlmorrison) April 18, 2017
“I’ve been to a prison in Colorado where 15-year-olds were [put] in with adult criminals, in terms of punishment,” Powell said. “These kids cannot come out safely and go back into society. So, this has to be fixed.”
“You can’t say, ‘We should disinvest the criminal justice, police and courts.’ They’re there not just to protect white folks. They’re there to protect black folks as well … What they want is fair and balanced justice treatment for all Americans.”