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Attorney General Jeff Sessions blamed a number of activist groups on Wednesday for a rise in violent crime in Chicago, saying that "if you want more shootings, more death, then listen to the ACLU, Antifa, Black Lives Matter, and groups who do not know the reality of policing."
"If you want public safety, then listen to the police professionals who have been intensely studying this for decades," the former Alabama senator said.
The dramatic comments came as President Donald Trump ratcheted up his criticism of Sessions. "I don't have an attorney general," Trump told The Hill in an interview published earlier Wednesday. But Sessions, an early supporter of the president, largely shares Trump's hard-line views on crime and is considered one of the most effective members of the president's Cabinet.
Sessions spoke Wednesday during a gathering of state and local law enforcement officials in Illinois. His statement about the activist groups echoed a dubious claim that Sessions has made in the past about a consent decree entered into by the ACLU and the Chicago Police Department, which went into effect in 2016, that required increased review of the department's stop-and-frisk policy.
Citing a 2018 study by two researchers at the University of Utah, Sessions said Wednesday that the ACLU consent decree "allowed this bloodshed to take place."
While the homicide rate in Chicago did spike in 2016, Sessions' claim that it was caused by the consent decree has been largely debunked by fact checkers.
Sessions cited the same study in May, when he told police officers that "if you want crime to go up, let the ACLU run the police department." The Washington Post Fact Checker at the time rated the claim mostly false, noting that after agreements similar to the ACLU consent decree were reached in other cities — the Post cites Newark, New Jersey; Philadelphia, and Seattle — homicide rates actually fell in subsequent years.
"Attorney General Sessions essentially argues that police officers are too scared to do their jobs if they have oversight," Karen Sheley, ACLU of Illinois Police Practices Director, said in a statement.
The Department of Justice, which Sessions leads, found in 2017 that the reasons for the increase in violent crime in Chicago were "broadly debated and inarguably complex," and said that the Chicago Police Department had faced diminished effectiveness because of "systems that have allowed CPD officers who violate the law to escape accountability."
That 2017 report, which was spurred by the release of a video showing the fatal shooting of a black teenager, Laquan McDonald, by a white police officer, did not attribute the rise in the homicide rate to the consent decree.
The Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request to elaborate on Sessions' remarks.