There is some concerning Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ moves at DoJ concerning local police forces and local policing. An example is provided in the lede to a recent Wall Street Journal article:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision this week to review concessions by local police departments accused of misconduct is part of a seismic shift at the Justice Department, which has quickly changed its emphasis under the Trump administration from protecting civil rights to promoting law and order.
Of course, there is no dichotomy between protecting civil rights and promoting law and order. Indeed, the two are inseparable: it isn’t possible to protect civil rights without promoting law and order: it’s those laws and the order they engender that are at the foundation of civil rights—which themselves are matters of those laws and that order.
The confusion extends to the Federal government’s role in overseeing local police institutions, including particularly “consent” decrees concluded or in progress involving Federal demands for police department reforms satisfactory to the Federal government. Sessions has ordered a review of these and has taken steps to begin rescission of some. However,
Officials in Baltimore and Chicago say they remain committed to overhauling police forces….
These officials say they’ll proceed within the parameters of existing consent decrees, but the illustration remains: local officials are fully capable both legally and morally to overhaul, to reform, without Federal involvement, and that’s as it should be. Each locale is different, and each local police force will need its unique and locally oriented reform. Federal involvement might be needed to clear away impediments to reform, but it is not needed to mandate the nature or structure of reform.
In the end, reasonable men can debate the methods of law and order, and reasonable men can argue whether current law is sufficient for civil rights (beyond that, the question of current law’s adequacy in implementing inalienable rights has been debated since the Federalist Papers, the Anti-Federalist Papers, and before). The immutable fact remains, though, that there are no civil rights, no matter what laws might assert, without laws being enforced—law and order. And that is, of necessity, a local matter.