Reviving the myth of "American carnage": What Jeff Sessions gets wrong about crime

Jeff Sessions tried to brag about his achievements as attorney general, but Thomas Abt would have none of it

By Matthew Rozsa
Published January 24, 2018 6:09PM (EST)
Jeff Sessions (AP/Shutterstock/Photo montage by Salon)
Jeff Sessions (AP/Shutterstock/Photo montage by Salon)

On Tuesday, USA Today published an editorial by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in which he claimed that President Donald Trump had kept his inaugural promise to stop the "American carnage" of violent crime. One Harvard professor, however, is not buying the propaganda from America's top cop.

In the op-ed, Sessions insisted that policies implemented by Trump and himself had caused a decline in violent crime throughout the United States. "We have placed trust in our prosecutors again, and we’re restoring respect for law enforcement," Sessions wrote. "We have invested in new resources and put in place smarter policies based on sound research."

He added, "Ensuring every neighborhood in America is safe again will take time, but we are already starting to see results."

Sessions then proceeded to take credit for the decline in the number of police officers killed, increasing the number of cases brought against violent criminals and causing a decline in violent crimes and murder rates.

"In 2017, we brought cases against more violent criminals than in any year in decades. We charged the most federal firearm prosecutions in a decade," Sessions wrote. "We convicted nearly 500 human traffickers and 1,200 gang members, and helped our international allies arrest about 4,000 MS-13 members. We also arrested and charged hundreds of people suspected with contributing to the ongoing opioid crisis."

Thomas Abt, a Senior Research Fellow with the Center for International Development at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, was having none of it.

Abt was particularly dismissive of Sessions' attempt to confuse readers into mistaking mere statistics with concrete accomplishments.

The "strategy" in question is worth quoting in full. "Our strategy at this department of concentrating on the most violent criminals, taking down violent gang networks, prioritizing gun prosecutions, and supporting our state, local and tribal law enforcement partners has proven to work," Sessions wrote.

"In his op-ed, Attorney General Sessions makes several unremarkable claims regarding violent crime. He describes its rise and fall, the terrible consequences of violence for poor communities of color, and the necessity of targeted enforcement in order to get gangs and guns off the street," Abt told Salon in an email. "What is remarkable, and mistaken, is Sessions’ claim that he, as a U.S. Attorney in the 90s or as U.S. Attorney General today, deserves any significant share of the credit for improvements in public safety. There’s simply no evidence to support such a self-serving statement."

Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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American Carnage Department Of Justice Donald Trump Jeff Sessions Thomas Abt Trump's Broken Promise