Author: Donna Owens

 

 

In early April, residents and officials alike in Baltimore were waiting anxiously. At issue: whether a federal judge would approve a consent decree between the Department of Justice and the city, designed to reform its police department two years after Freddie Gray’s custody death.

The DOJ’s 11th hour request to delay a decision, a move sought by new Attorney General Jeff Sessions, rankled some and worried others. Indeed, the country’s top attorney signaled he would review similar agreements nationwide after terming certain police department findings «anecdotal.»

Yet U.S. District Judge James Bredar signed the agreement on April 7, noting that «the time for negotiating has long since passed.»

For reform advocates, it was vindication, the first step perhaps towards more constitutional policing. «Both the police and community are victimized when there’s a poor system in place,» said Ron Davis, a law enforcement veteran who formerly headed the DOJ’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services under the Obama administration.

Asked if Donald Trump’s presidency will provide the necessary framework to support the U.S. Constitution, particularly the 14th Amendment that ensures equal protection for all citizens under the law, he commented: «It’s caused me great concern.»

© Demonstrators confront police during a protest following the release of a video showing Chicago Poli… Mayor Rahn Emanuel And Chicago Police Superintendent McCarthy To Release Police Shooting Video

Policing is among the Civil Rights issues under the Trump administration that has roiled some Americans and stirred protests, or a sense of optimism for supporters in these first 100 days. While recent polls suggest Republican stalwarts and Trump voters have favorable views of his tenure to date, critics abound.

«We have seen a series of unlawful and misguided executive orders, imposition of a discriminatory Muslim Ban, a massive rollback on federal civil rights enforcement and a resulting wave of litigation across the country challenging this administration’s actions,» said Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. «This administration must reverse course before causing further damage to American democracy.»

Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) indicated he sees little room for sunniness on the horizon.

During a recent forum on Capitol Hill held to examine Civil Rights under Trump, the veteran Congressman noted that while the Obama administration made «notable legislative and enforcement gains in civil rights,» the climate of equality shifted.

«Though the Trump presidential campaign promised meaningful changes that would benefit minorities in the area of crime, equal justice and economic equality, his political allies and surrogates sent a different message that served to heighten national divisions and anxiety,» said Conyers.

He cited rollbacks in voting rights litigation enforcement; proposed cuts to the EPA’s Office on Environmental Justice; and Trump quietly revoking the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Order designed to protect women against employment discrimination.

«With the rise in hate violence, police shootings and legislative backlash at the state and local level, minority communities have been justifiably concerned about the continuing role of the federal government in protecting their civil rights,» he said.

Roy Austin, a Washington, D.C. attorney and former director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs, Justice, and Opportunity, didn’t mince words when asked how Civil Rights are faring under Trump so far.

«I’d have to give them an F minus. They aren’t doing a single thing to protect Civil Rights,» he said. Ticking off immigration roundups, a proposed Mexican border wall, transgender protections and voting rights, Austin added, «As an Administration they appear to be doing a number of things to go backwards.»

Cedric Richmond (D-LA), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, agreed.

«For the African American community, for the civil rights community, for any community committed to equality and justice for all human beings, we all have a lot to lose under this Administration.»