The Trump Administration has been unrelenting in its return to failed policies that have criminalized and dehumanized young people of color, argues a new report by The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP).
The rhetoric in tweets, speeches, and press statements has made the political climate ripe for advancing policies that roll back recent criminal justice reforms in favor of a “law-and-order” agenda, Kisha Bird, Duy Pham and Justin Edwards argued in the report , entitled “Unjustice: Overcoming Trump’s Rollbacks on Youth Justice.”
These failed policies echo a modern-day political playbook ripped from the 1960s that vilified communities of color and further systematized racial inequities in the criminal justice system, claims the study by CLASP, a nonpartisan advocacy group .
The study examined the following decision-making points that can affect young people of color: promising police reform strategies under threat; reversing progress in strategic prosecutorial choices; and criminalizing youth culture and youth of color.
Notably, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) under the leadership of Attorney General Jeff Sessions repeatedly paints people of color as dangerous, uses misleading crime data, and makes false links between immigration and crime to incite fear, they said.
“The Department of Justice claimed that “the violent crime rate increased by 3.4 percent nationwide in 2016, the largest single-year increase in 25 years.”
“However, while violent crime and murder did increase in 2015 and 2016, these trends warrant more investigation and are much more nuanced than the administration’s rhetoric leads the public to believe.”
Trump reinforces this rhetoric, stirring fear that violent crime has reached unprecedented levels, despite steadily decreasing over the last 25 years with minor one- or two year fluctuations, the authors wrote.
More, Sessions voiced concern over police oversight investigations during his confirmation hearing, testifying that federal lawsuits against local law enforcement could “undermine the respect for police officers and create an impression that the entire department is not doing their work consistent with fidelity to law and fairness.”
Bird, Pham and Edwards recalled that in a March 2017 memo, Sessions ordered a sweeping review of consent decrees with law enforcement agencies about police conduct. Soon after that, he announced the department’s withdrawal from consent decrees and DOJ investigations into city police departments.
Then, the withdrawal of the DOJ from supporting consent decrees rolls back progress in community-police relations and civil rights in many communities. It also puts young people—particularly young men of color—at greater risk of unconstitutional discrimination by law enforcement, according to the report.
Sessions’ rescission of the Obama-era guidance to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenses returns us to an era of excessive punishments that has exacerbated mass incarceration and the unjust racial profiling and discrimination that persist in our justice system, they added.
“Mandatory minimums worsened punishments for youth and young adults of color without providing solutions or addressing root causes, especially following the series of reforms in the 1994 Crime Bill and “tough-on-crime” policies.”
Yet many of the most threatening and transparent actions of the Trump Administration directly target immigrant communities, CLASP argued.
“What started in the campaign as racist attacks on immigrants has translated into the administration actively pushing a false theory that immigration causes crime and painting immigrant youth as dangerous gang members.”
The administration has criminalized immigrant youth as a part of its strategy to push nationalist immigration policies that are devastating youth and young adults of color, regardless of immigration status, authors continued.
The study recalled that the president refers to gang members as “animals” and repeatedly mentions gang violence when talking about immigration to advance his agenda.
It cited Sessions’ pledge to “to examine the unaccompanied minors issue and the exploitation of that program by gang members who come to this country as wolves in sheep clothing.”
The authors concluded that the devastating effects of the administration’s dehumanizing rhetoric on immigrant youth of color are “immoral.”
They made the following policy recommendations:
- Examine the commitment of law enforcement and state and local policymakers to researching, implementing, and investing in 21st century policing strategies.
- Assess and document public statements and policies of chief law enforcement officials that address mass incarceration and reduce mandatory minimums.
- Review and analyze existing and newly proposed state gang enhancement laws.
- Establish accountability safeguards and standards to reduce and eliminate racial disparities in the juvenile and criminal justice system.
- Build partnerships across agencies and stakeholders to make criminal justice reform and reinvestment a priority, as demonstrated by state, county, and city budgets, as well as the state and local legislative agenda.
A full copy of the report can be found here.
Megan Hadley is Associated Editor of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcomed.