Attorney General Jeff Sessions painted a grim vision of violence in the U.S. today, telling state law enforcement officials that a recent uptick in murders threatens to undo decades of progress. He pledged to “put bad men behind bars,” reports the Associated Press. In his first major policy speech, Sessions promised that combating violent crime would be a top priority of the Justice Department. He warned of a surging heroin epidemic with drugs pouring in from Mexico, of police officers made to feel overly cautious for fear of being captured on “viral videos,” and of rising homicide rates in big cities. “We are diminished as a nation when any of our citizens fear for their life when they leave their home; or when terrified parents put their children to sleep in bathtubs to keep them safe from stray bullets; or when entire neighborhoods are at the mercy of drug dealers, gangs and other violent criminals,” Sessions told the National Association of Attorneys General.
Sessions promised that his Justice Department would prioritize cases against violent offenders, aggressively enforce immigration laws, and dismantle drug cartels. He announced a multi-agency task force, to be headed by the deputy attorney general, to propose crime-fighting legislation and study crime trends. He said the task force would include the heads of the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and other agencies. The early focus on drug and violent crime is a radical departure for a Justice Department that has viewed as more urgent the prevention of cyberattacks from foreign criminals, international bribery, and the threat of homegrown violent extremism. Unlike his Democratic-appointed predecessors, Sessions believes some police officers have pulled back on enforcement because of anxiety their actions could be recorded on video and scrutinized by the public.