Two days before Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke in Memphis, Tennessee, on Thursday, a 6-year-old boy’s video plea to end gun violence went viral on Facebook.
Sessions hopes everyone saw it.
“This is happening in the United States of America — and we will not stand for it, “ the U.S. attorney general said before 80 local, state, and federal prosecutors and law enforcement officers in Memphis. The video provided the perfect backdrop to discuss his plans to revive the era of being “tough on crime.”
Under President Barack Obama, criminal justice reform had been a priority, and lawmakers from both parties decried skyrocketing prison populations and costs. Since taking office, however, President Donald Trump and Sessions cling to advocating more resources and tougher policies toward fighting crime.
“The more murderers in jail, the fewer people are going to be murdered in this country,” Sessions said. “I don’t think the increase is a blip. Yes, we did have 30 years of a decline in crime, which we did with tough sentencing, and tough prosecution.”
During his remarks, Sessions made no secret of his disdain for the reforms sought by his predecessors. The DOJ would “do work that furthers law enforcement, not undermines law enforcement,” he said.
Sessions also doubled down on his belief that drug use and violent crime are tightly correlated. “Drugs and crime go together,” Sessions said. “If they don’t fear you, they don’t pay you.” But reform advocates argue that increased criminalization of drugs breeds competition between distribution networks and perpetuates violence.
“Violent crime surged, federal drug prosecutions fell. We’re going to reverse that trend,” Sessions added. “There’s been too much legalization talk and not enough prevention talk.”
During his time in Memphis, Sessions met with Mayor Jim Strickland, who previously told FOX13 he wanted “federal involvement” in Memphis to beef up the city’s fight against violent crime. “We don’t know if that is money or manpower, one or the other,” Strickland said.
“Money or manpower” might be in the cards for Memphis, which saw a record of 228 murders in 2016 and 84 so far this year. Sessions’ visit comes days after the Trump administration unveiled its budget proposal for 2018, which increases DOJ funding to Project Safe Neighborhoods by 1,077 percent — a $64 million bump up. Troubled cities seeking to stop violent crime can apply for help from the program, which includes money for hiring more federal and state prosecutors,training, and community outreach efforts. The budget also proposes an additional 300 prosecutors, two-thirds of whom would be directed to prosecute violent crime.
While Sessions didn’t refer to Project Safe Neighborhood by name during his remarks in Memphis,he did describe a similar kind of help that he hopes to bring to cities struggling to combat recent crime waves.