For a shocking glimpse of what’s been happening in the name of criminal justice in America, says a New York Times editorial, look no further than a Justice Department report last week on police behavior in Louisiana. Officers there have routinely arrested hundreds of citizens annually without probable cause, strip-searching them and denying them contact with their family and lawyers for days — all in an unconstitutional attempt to force cooperation with detectives who finally admitted they were operating on a mere “hunch” or “feeling.” This wholesale violation of the Constitution’s protection against unlawful search and seizure by the police in Evangeline Parish was standard procedure for putting pressure on citizens who the police thought might have information about crimes, according to the findings of a 20-month federal investigation.
The report described as “staggering” the number of people who were “commonly detained for 72 hours or more” with no opportunity to contest their arrest, in what the police euphemistically termed “investigative holds.” While the nation has been exposed in recent years to police abuses involving the fatal shooting of citizens, particularly black Americans, the new report presents something no less insidious: dragnet interrogations routinely conducted below the radar as a supposed tool of criminal justice. The practice, which finally prompted local complaints to the federal government, was found to be habitual in the parish for as long as anyone could remember. Reforms have since begun, a tribute to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section, which carried out the investigation and demanded wholesale changes. One big question in Washington now is whether President-elect Donald Trump and his choice for attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions, might ever commit themselves to this cause.