DOJ Signals Pull Back From Civil Rights Enforcement

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DOJ Signals Pull Back From Civil Rights Enforcement

For Immediate Release
Cindy Hoffman: 202 524 5330

On March 31, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a new directive for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to review all existing and contemplated consent decrees, such as those that were put in place with law enforcement agencies in Seattle, Cleveland and Ferguson, Mo. These consent decrees were negotiated following investigations that revealed a pattern or practice of excessive police force in violation of the Constitution and federal law. Incidents in these cities included the shooting of 14-year-old Tamir Rice and 18-year-old Michael Brown. On April 3rd, DOJ filed a motion to postpone court proceedings to solicit public comment on a consent decree negotiated by the City of Baltimore and the Obama administration to address unconstitutional law enforcement practices by the Baltimore police department.

Statement by Casey Harden, Interim CEO of YWCA USA

“YWCA USA is alarmed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ directive to review consent decrees that address patterns and practices of civil rights violations by law enforcement and his request to postpone court proceedings related to the consent decree pending before the U.S. District Court in Maryland. This consent decree was negotiated to address egregious constitutional violations by the Baltimore Police Department that were revealed in the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s death in police custody.
“These actions signal a radical shift in priorities and approach that undermines the Department of Justice’s clear and long-established responsibility to rigorously investigate and address civil rights violations by all levels of law enforcement. The law is clear: where unconstitutional, racially discriminatory patterns and practices of conduct by law enforcement exist, DOJ has a responsibility to step in, enforce civil rights laws, and monitor progress toward constitutionally acceptable conduct by law enforcement.
“With these actions and the administration’s prior executive orders on law enforcement, our deepest concerns are being realized. Rather than continuing the significant progress that has been made in recent years to recognize systemic racism and utilize proven methods to address it at its core, DOJ is taking a huge step backwards.”


  • In a memorandum dated March 31, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered a review of existing and contemplated consent decrees with law enforcement agencies. Such consent decrees are a tool the Department of Justice (DOJ) has used to address unconstitutional policing practices and misconduct by law enforcement including in the city of Baltimore, Maryland. Once entered and approved by a court, neither DOJ nor the city/police department that is the subject of the negotiated consent decree may unilaterally set it aside; rather, a court must agree to any modifications or rescission of a consent decree. Sessions directs the agency to utilize eight principles set forth in the memorandum to guide the review of all department activities.
  • DOJ’s investigation in Baltimore, following Freddie Gray’s death while in Baltimore police custody, led to the issuance of a detailed report documenting “systematic deficiencies in BPD’s policies, training, supervision, and accountability structures that failed to equip officers with the tools they need to police effectively.” The investigation also led to negotiations between DOJ and the city of a proposed consent decree to address the deficiencies identified in the report. That consent decree is currently before the federal district court in Maryland, awaiting judicial approval.
  • On April 3, DOJ filed a motion for continuance in the case of the United States v. Police Department of Baltimore City to “allow the United States to review and assess the proposed Consent Decree and confer with the City in light of this Administration’s recent directives.” In its filing with the court, DOJ references the March 31 memorandum, as well as two executive orders issued by President Trump on February 9, 2017 (Executive Order No. 13776, which establishes a task force on crime reduction and public safety, and Executive Order No. 13773, which directs the federal government to take steps to address purported increases in violent crime) as the source of the new directives. YWCA USA has expressed concerns about the impact these executive orders will have on communities of color. The City of Baltimore has opposed the motion for continuance.
  • DOJ aggressively pursued efforts to address police misconduct and improve relations with communities in almost two dozen jurisdictions during the Obama administration, leading to the negotiation and court approval of 14 consent decrees. In addition to Baltimore, other cities subject to such consent decrees include Seattle, Cleveland, and Ferguson, Mo.
  • Learn more about YWCA’s work to eliminate racial profiling and criminalization of people of color.


YWCA USA is on a mission to eliminate racism, empower women, and promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all. The organization is one of the oldest and largest women’s organizations in the nation, serving over 2 million women, girls, and their families each year. Learn more: