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March 15, 2017

AG Sessions talks again about "the challenge of violent crime and drugs" and about support for law enforcement

Jeff-sessions-attorney-general-630x354The Department of Justice now has posted here an extended speech delivered by Attorney General Jeff Sessions today in Richmond, Virginia (which just happens to be where I am headed tomorrow for a faculty workshop).  Those who have been following what AG Sessions has been saying in recent months (and really throughout his whole career) will likely not find anything all that new or surprising in this latest speech.  Nevertheless, I still found the entire speech and especially the following passages worth flagging in this space.  And I have highlight two particular sentences in the discussion of drugs that I have not previously seen and that could and perhaps should capture a lot of attention:

First, we should keep in mind some context. Overall, 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....  In the past four decades, we have won great victories against crime in America. This happened under leadership from both political parties, and thanks above all to the work of prosecutors and good police using data-driven methods and professional training.  Hundreds of thousands of Americans are alive today as a result.

But in the last two years, we’ve seen warning signs that this progress is now at risk.  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.  And all of this is taking place amid an unprecedented epidemic of heroin and opioid abuse....

My fear is that this surge in violent crime is not a “blip,” but the start of a dangerous new trend.  I worry that we risk losing the hard-won gains that have made America a safer and more prosperous place.  While we can hope for the best, we can’t afford to be complacent.  When crime rates move in the wrong direction, they can move quickly....

Last month the President gave us clear direction, issuing three executive orders that direct the federal government to reduce crime and restore public safety. This task will be a top priority of the Department of Justice during my time as Attorney General. I’d like to talk briefly about how we’re tackling this challenge.

First, we’re making sure the federal government focuses our resources and efforts on this surge in violent crime.  Two weeks ago, I announced the formation of a Department of Justice Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety. It includes crime reduction experts from throughout the Department of Justice, including the heads of the FBI, the ATF, the DEA and the U.S. Marshals Service.  The task force will evaluate everything we are doing at the federal level.

Second: We need to use every lawful tool we have to get the most violent offenders off our streets. In recent years, we have seen a significant shift in the priority given to prosecuting firearms offenders at the federal level.  This trend will end.  This Department of Justice will systematically prosecute criminals who use guns in committing crimes....

Third: To turn back this rising tide of violent crime, we need to confront the heroin and opioid crisis in our nation — and dismantle the transnational cartels that bring drugs and violence into our neighborhoods.

Our nation is in the throes of a heroin and opioid epidemic.  Overdose deaths more than tripled between 2010 and 2014.  According to the CDC, about 140 Americans on average now die from a drug overdose each day.  That means every three weeks, we are losing as many American lives to drug overdoses as we lost in the 9/11 attacks.  Illegal drugs are flooding across our southern border and into cities across our country, bringing violence, addiction, and misery.  We have also seen an increase in the trafficking of new, low-cost heroin by Mexican drug cartels working with local street gangs.  As the market for this heroin expands, gangs fight for territory and new customers and neighborhoods are caught in the crossfire.

There are three main ways to fight the scourge of drugs: criminal enforcement, treatment and prevention.  Criminal enforcement is essential to stop both the transnational cartels that ship drugs into our country, and the thugs and gangs who use violence and extortion to move their product.  One of the President’s executive orders directed the Justice Department to dismantle these organizations and gangs — and we will do just that.

Treatment programs are also vital. But treatment often comes too late to save people from addiction or death.  So we need to focus on the third way we can fight drug use: preventing people from ever taking drugs in the first place.

I realize this may be an unfashionable belief in a time of growing tolerance of drug use.  But too many lives are at stake to worry about being fashionable.  I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store.  And I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana — so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful. Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life.

In the ’80s and ’90s, we saw how campaigns stressing prevention brought down drug use and addiction.  We can do this again. Educating people and telling them the terrible truth about drugs and addiction will result in better choices. We can reduce the use of drugs, save lives and turn back the surge in crime that inevitably follows in the wake of increased drug abuse.

Finally: The federal government alone cannot meet the challenge of violent crime and drugs — so we need to protect and support our brave men and women in law enforcement. About 85 percent of all law enforcement officers in our nation are not federal, but state and local. These are the men and women on the front lines — the ones doing most of the tough and often dangerous work that keeps our neighborhoods safe....

The new challenge of violent crime in our nation is real — and the task that lies before us is clear. We need to resist the temptation to ignore or downplay this crisis. Instead, we must tackle it head-on, to ensure justice and safety for all Americans. We will enforce our laws and put bad men behind bars. We will fight the scourge of drug abuse. And we will support the brave men and women of law enforcement, as they work day and night to protect us. Together, let us act to meet this challenge, so that our children will not look back and say that we let slip from our grasp all we had done to make America a safer place.

I find it quite interesting and significant that AG Sessions, in the first sentence highlighted above, has highlighted the severity of the current US drug problem in term of the number of deaths caused by the worst and deadliest terrorist attack in US history.  The decision to frame the problem in these terms reveals just how seriously the Attorney General sees the problem, and I am in some sense inclined to respect and applaud this framing in part because I fear a lot of people who have not been directly touched by the modern opioid epidemic do not fully appreciate how many lives are being lost to it.

Ironically, though, the kind of wise intensity I see reflected in the first sentence highlighted above is undercut but what strikes me as a misguided intensity reflected in the second sentence highlighted above.  Because tens of thousands of individuals are dying for opioid overdoses and nobody dies from a marijuana overdoes, it make a whole lot of sense to me that a whole lot of people would see a whole lot of value in encouraging people to trade an opioid dependency for a marijuana dependency.  (And this simple analysis, of course, leaves out the statistically reality that the vast majority of people who use marijuana do not become dependent on it.) 

March 15, 2017 at 10:36 AM | Permalink


The stupidity meter of this lawyer speech is spinning at supersonic speed. I can only address a couple of points.

No mention of the federal policy to promote bastardy by paying for it, and by economic penalties for getting married, among minorities, and now among whites. That is the most powerful factor associated with poverty and with crime in the USA. Whites now have a 40% bastardy rate in the 2010 Census. This is an unmitigated human caused catastrophe. Anyone getting married today, black or white, should be seen as a suicidal fool. The lawyer profession is really going after the assets of the productive male.

The opioid epidemic is caused by Chinese produced carfentanyl, a drug 10,000 times more potent than morphine. It is given to elephants who need an operation. It may have a crime suppressing effect. Almost all the deaths are among heroin addicts. They typically commit hundreds of crimes a year in support of their habit. This epidemic may make the death penalty superfluous, since it may drop the crime rate by attrition of the lawyer client.

No mention of public self help, the single factor that is found in all jurisdictions with low crime rates, here and abroad.

Posted by: David Behar | Mar 15, 2017 11:44:16 AM

"I am in some sense inclined to respect and applaud this framing in part because I fear a lot of people who have not been directly touched by the modern opioid epidemic do not fully appreciate how many lives are being lost to it."

This is a common problem among our elites--anything that doesn't fit their worldview is dismissed as exterior to the model. Of course, just because it is exterior to the model doesn't mean it is not real but it does give our elites the opportunity to act outraged, surprised, shocked etc. etc. when reality comes back and bites them on the butt a la the election of Trump. Just because policy makers are ignoring reality doesn't mean that everyone else is for the primary reason that everyone else has to live with it.

Having said all that, I pity Session a little bit. Societies die for two reasons: either by being overpowered by an enemy from without or through corruption from within. Americans remains fascinated by the enemy from without whether that be the USSR, Russia, China, ISIS as a distraction from the corruption from within. I don't think Sessions can stop the moral and ethical decay that eats at the American soul and I have come to be pessimistic as to whether the cancer that erodes the body politic is curable. I am not forecasting the doom of American tomorrow but I do believe that individuals with foresight are planning for a world where the USA doesn't exist within a few generations.

Posted by: Daniel | Mar 15, 2017 12:06:40 PM

Why should anyone credit anything this liar says?

Posted by: Emily | Mar 15, 2017 1:09:56 PM

"criminal enforcement, treatment and prevention"

Leading with crime. The others are also rans.

The priorities here are backward. Cutting health insurance won't help.

Germane tweets:

Beth Reinhard‏Verified account @bethreinhard
Sessions in prepared remarks today also calls marijuana a "life-wrecking dependency...that’s only slightly less awful" than heroin.

"David Menschel‏ @davidminpdx 8m8 minutes ago

David Menschel Retweeted Beth Reinhard

Heroin overdose deaths per year ~13,000.
Marijuana overdose deaths per year ~0"

This is not just about people with my political ideology. There are sane people out there dealing with drugs and criminal justice policy on various sides. It is that Sessions in particular is simply not who one would want here. Or, at least, what he is selling here.

Posted by: Joe | Mar 15, 2017 1:25:59 PM

Leaving aside the Cannabis issue (which I think is very misguided), there's next to no justification for making an opiate addict a convicted felon if there's actually a goal of helping them and preventing overdoses. Being a convicted felon has very little deterrent power in the face of such a strong addiction and the consequences of that felony will make it much more difficult to beat the addiction later (it'll be harder to get a job that carries insurance that can pay for treatment, for example).

Posted by: Erik M | Mar 15, 2017 2:03:00 PM

Jeff Sessions describes marijuana use as leading to "life-wrecking dependency"!! This was the mantra 40 years ago--and has been disproved a million times over. Where did this troglodyte come from?

Posted by: Peter from Vermont | Mar 15, 2017 5:14:54 PM

An estimated 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the United States. In 2014, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities accounted for 9,967 deaths (31 percent of overall driving fatalities).
That is 240 persons per day.

Posted by: Claudio Giusti | Mar 15, 2017 5:41:06 PM

Violent crime and drugs aside, Sessions is one ugly women.

Posted by: Huh | Mar 15, 2017 6:22:02 PM

That debbil weed. This guy is such a retrograde, reactionary clod. He's 20 years behind the times of even Ted Cruz.

Praise God he's out of the Senate. I don't think he will last more than a couple of years under Teh Donald.

Posted by: Fat Bastard | Mar 15, 2017 6:55:39 PM

Pretty dismissive of treatment. It isn't as effective as we might like, but 45 years into the drug war, rehab is expensive and has limited availability.

So the game plan - ignore pharmaceutical industry contribution to the problem, place heavy surveillance on low level drug users, which also means poor minorities in general. Pass harsh laws protecting police from inevitable protests and militarize police more via increase in defense spending.

Posted by: Paul | Mar 15, 2017 8:22:06 PM

In the 5,000 or so years, since folks have used marijuana, there has been only one recorded death from an overdose: my uncle! Yes, he ate about ten pounds of weed and died from asphyxiation.

Posted by: Sonia | Mar 15, 2017 8:39:53 PM

Sonia, I'm still alive. I recovered! I will say though that it was one hell of a trip.

Posted by: Sonia's uncle | Mar 15, 2017 8:41:10 PM

I would like to meet Sonia and her uncle and share a joint with them!

Posted by: Moderate Republican | Mar 15, 2017 8:42:57 PM

If Rick Nevin is looking for a new factor to correlate with the drop in the crime rate, I suggest following the deaths from opiate overdose.

Almost all are among addicts, and very few are among pain patients. Carfentanyl will drop the national crime rate like a lead balloon, as the addicts and criminals pass away at a young age. We can potentially be spared millions of crime-years from this effect.


Posted by: David Behar | Mar 15, 2017 10:40:46 PM

"...the cancer that erodes the body politic is curable."

Correct. Stop the lawyer profession.

Posted by: David Behar | Mar 16, 2017 3:00:39 AM

What? There is another option?

March 13, 2017 3:44 PM
De Blasio Announces $38-Million Initiative To Reduce Overdose Deaths

Posted by: George | Mar 16, 2017 3:23:11 AM

Mr. Behar, your ferocious animus against lawyers is surely attributable to your wife's lawyer having taken you the cleaners in your divorce. You should have hired a lawyer instead of representing yourself.

Posted by: Mary quite contrary | Mar 16, 2017 8:08:12 AM

Back in the day, I argued to Bill Otis that the current prosecution mentality, at least regarding marijuana, was problematic for various reasons, including the sanctity of the criminal justice system (the prosecution side particularly, given his c.v.) as a whole.

People like William F. Buckley noted the prudential reasons for not having such a criminal justice centered mentality. OTOH, if one finds drugs immoral, perhaps, you would be more inclined to prosecute. Even there, however, there is a mixture of ways to enforce morality. This includes some non-criminal techniques of limited value, but reducing the harm of oppressive methods here is of some value.

Posted by: Joe | Mar 16, 2017 12:11:02 PM

Afterreading Sessions remarks, I need to roll a big joint. How about it Jeff, I think you should join me. Sounds like you need it.

Posted by: Lee Julien | Mar 16, 2017 1:30:15 PM

Mary. There is some misunderstanding. I love the rule of law, the lawyer profession, and judges. If the public is oppressed, the lawyer is doubly oppressed. The ordinary judge is triply oppressed. I am here to liberate the lawyer, quadruple his salary, and grow his public esteem 10 fold.

Posted by: David Behar | Mar 16, 2017 10:34:04 PM

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