According to a report from the Washington Post, the Department of Justice will not bring charges against the Baton Rouge officers involved in the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling.
Sterling was shot while pinned to the ground by two police officers in July 2016. His death was captured by a cellphone video that circulated widely on social media and came a day before Philando Castile was killed during a traffic stop in Minnesota, the aftermath of which was streamed on Facebook Live by Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds.
The Post reports that the Justice Department is planning to officially announce its decision in the next 24 hours and that as of Tuesday afternoon, Sterling’s family had yet to be informed. This marks the first time the Justice Department under Attorney General Jeff Sessions has declined to investigate officers involved in a high-profile shooting case like this one.
In light of this decision, Baton Rouge is bracing itself for possible protests. IN a letter to Sessions on Friday, Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D), whose district includes Baton Rouge, wrote in a letter to Sessions:
“The Department of Justice’s failure to communicate with the community has created angst and nervousness, and I fear carries the potential for increased tension between the community and law enforcement. It is inappropriate and against the interests of public safety . . . to allow this level of uncertainty to continue.”
According to the New York Times, successfully charging police officers with federal civil rights violations is incredibly difficult. The Obama administration made cases like these a priority, but as the Times notes, the Justice Department of that administration also declined to prosecute police officers in cases that were just as high profile, like that of Micheal Brown in Ferguson in 2014.
Despite that context, it’s worth noting what Jeff Sessions’s Justice Department has chosen to focus on instead: A Code Pink activist who was arrested for laughing during introductory remarks at Sessions’s confirmation hearing is being prosecuted by the DOJ. Earlier this month, Sessions announced a review into “consent decrees” that were issued by Obama in response to the deaths of black men and women at the hands of law enforcement. The consent decrees are reforms enforced by the Justice Department when patterns of unconstitutional policing are discovered through investigations. Sessions, a noted racist and virulent little garden gnome, said in a radio interview on April 14 that consent decrees can “reduce the morale of the police officers.”
All this to say: it is abundantly clear is that he has no intention of taking into consideration the morale of black people who find themselves the victims of unconstitutional policing practices that are only brought to national attention when someone has died and a cell phone video of their death circulates on social media.
Possible police misconduct in the 2014 death of Eric Garner is still under investigation by the Department of Justice, the Post reports. Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch decided at the end of her time to move forward with the investigation, effectively leaving it in Sessions’s hands.