Sessions seeks to revive federal anti-crime program that targeted African-Americans

Free Press staff, wire reports | 3/17/2017, 7:40 p.m.
New U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions vowed to revive 1990s law-and-order strategies that pumped up the nation’s prison population to ...
Mr. Sessions

“During the spike in violent crime in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Richmond consistently had one of the top 10 per-capita murder rates among American cities,” he stated in his remarks.

“In response,” he stated, federal prosecutors worked with state and local law enforcement in 1997 to launch Project Exile “to take off the streets those who were mostly likely to commit gun violence: Criminals with guns. 

“Over the decade that followed, murders and armed robberies in Richmond declined dramatically,” he stated. “A study published in the journal Criminology & Public Policy credited Project Exile with the reduction in gun homicides in Richmond.”

While other experts have suggested the results are far less certain, Mr. Sessions said he would “promote” Project Exile nationwide, along with similar strategies that he stated bring together all levels of law enforcement.

Despite his praise, Project Exile was seen as racially biased in targeting mostly African-American offenders. Federal judges also expressed concerns about their courts being clogged with cases that state and local officials and courts previously handled.

Acknowledging that Project Exile and similar programs led to more targeting of African-Americans, Mr. Sessions said that law enforcement has “to be so sensitive to those issues.”

He also acknowledged that “crime rates in our country remain near historic lows. Murder rates are half of what they were in 1980. The rate of violent crime has fallen by almost half from its peak.   

“The people of Richmond have seen this progress firsthand,” he stated. “Since 1995, murder and violent crime rates in Richmond have fallen by two-thirds.”

But he stated that getting tough on crime is the only way to combat what he sees as an upward trend.

“The latest FBI data tell us that from 2014 to 2015, the violent crime rate in the U.S. increased by more than 3 percent — the largest one-year increase since 1991. The murder rate increased 10 percent — the largest increase since 1968.

“Since 2014, the murder rate has gone up in 27 percent of our country’s 35 largest cities,” he stated. “Here in Richmond, the preliminary murder total for 2016 was 44 percent higher than the year before, jumping from 43 to 61. And all of this is taking place amid an unprecedented epidemic of heroin and opioid abuse.”

He stated that years earlier when he was a prosecutor in Alabama, “the people in those communities pleaded with us to have more police and do a better job of getting thugs off the street.”

He said he is starting to hear those pleas again.