Sen. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III (R-Ala.), President-elect Donald Trump’s attorney general pick, conjures up as much anger and disgust as his Confederate name, but it’s the increased power he now holds that makes him even more dangerous.
There is a reason 1,140 lawyers from around the country are protesting Trump’s nomination of Sessions; there is a reason members of the NAACP were arrested for engaging in civil disobedience in Sessions’ Alabama office Tuesday.
The former attorney general for Alabama is an unambiguously racist good ole boy with a long history of judicial violence against women and people of color—black and Latinx people, specifically. Sessions is so racist, in fact, that although he was nominated in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan to be a judge for the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Alabama, his colleagues—including then-Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, soon-to-be author of the destructive 1994 crime bill—decided that he was unfit to serve on a federal bench.
Sarah Widman wrote in a 2002 piece for the New Republic:
Senate Democrats tracked down a career justice department employee named J Gerald Hebert, who testified, albeit reluctantly, that in a conversation between the two men Sessions had labelled the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) “un-American” and “communist-inspired”. Hebert said Sessions had claimed these groups “forced civil rights down the throats of people.”
In his confirmation hearings, Sessions sealed his own fate by saying such groups could be construed as “un-American” when “they involve themselves in promoting un-American positions” in foreign policy. Hebert testified that the young lawyer tended to “pop off” on such topics regularly, noting that Sessions had called a white civil rights lawyer a “disgrace to his race” for litigating voting rights cases.
This is almost verbatim the language used in 1960 by the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission—a violent white supremacist government organization that colluded with the Ku Klux Klan—when director Albert Jones placed my grandfather, an NAACP member and voting-rights organizer, under surveillance for being a “subversive” danger to fine white citizens who were “molders of their heritage.”
Sessions is a white supremacist, xenophobic bigot who once said that he believed the KKK to be an acceptable organization until he learned that they smoked marijuana. In 1985 Sessions, the then-39-year-old U.S. attorney for Alabama’s Southern District, led a judicial lynching party against the “Marion Three,” claiming that Albert Turner, Spencer Hogue and Evelyn Turner were guilty of felony voter fraud for trying to help elderly black people vote. The Marion Three were eventually exonerated. Deval Patrick, former Massachusetts governor and former assistant U.S. attorney general, served as legal counsel for Hogue and recently wrote a letter (pdf) outlining why Sessions is unfit to be attorney general of the United States.
In 1995, Sessions supported the return of chain gangs to Alabama, men shackled together and working hard labor on the side of the road to purposely humiliate and dehumanize them. “I think it’s perfectly proper,” Sessions said at the time. Of course he would.
And that’s really just the tip of the Klan hood.
According to the Prison Policy Initiative, white people in Sessions’ home state of Alabama are underrepresented in incarcerated populations (62 percent, total population; 42 percent, incarcerated population); and black people in the state are overrepresented (26 percent, total population; 54 percent, incarcerated population). According to the Drug Policy Alliance, Alabama’s total population is 68.5 percent white and 26.2 percent black; still, drug arrests are 63.4 percent white and 36.4 percent black.
This staggering racist discrimination is a microcosm of the rest of the United States—and if Trump has his way, and this acquiescence to and complicity in placating white fragility holds, Sessions will bring the Confederacy to the U.S. attorney general’s office.
As I’ve written previously, the so-called war on drugs has always been a storefront operation created for the sole purpose of laundering the institutional, systemic and coordinated assaults on black and brown communities in the United States of America. And according to Sessions, he’s been on the “front lines” of efforts to occupy these communities and divide and destroy families by pushing for harsher sentencing, coercing testimony and convicting accused drug dealers on that testimony alone.
In 2002 he made a statement on the Senate floor explaining that the war was successful:
[N]ational and local leadership sent an unambiguous message that drug use was morally, legally, medically and physiologically bad. There was no ambiguity.
Second, Congress passed drug sentencing statutes that provided tough mandatory minimum sentences for drug traffickers.
Third, the Department of Justice worked with local law enforcement to prosecute substantially more drug traffickers and send them away for long mandatory minimum sentences. This combination of a clear message, aggressive prosecution, and tough sentences for drug dealers helped drive drug use down. Our country benefitted from this. The War on Drugs was not lost.
DPA has turned with razor-sharp focus on Sessions to prevent him from causing even more damage. The organization has collaborated once again with dream hampton, the activist and award-winning filmmaker who produced From Prohibition to Gold Rush: History of the War on Drugs, and released a powerful video urging everyone to petition their senators to stop Sessions.
Let there be no doubt: Sessions’ moralizing about marijuana and disingenuous stance on reducing crack and cocaine disparities; his anti-immigration and anti-police oversight positions; his misogynistic stance on reproductive-justice issues and homo-antagonistic stance on LGBTQ issues; and his clear neo-Confederate politics make him a malignant cancer on anything resembling progress and equity in this country.
The policies he espouses are the reason former Oklahoma City Police Officer Daniel Holtzclaw felt comfortable targeting and raping black women on the streets he swore to serve and protect—black women who were terrified of what the violent mass-criminalization system would do to them. They are the reason police officers feel comfortable carrying out street executions of black and brown men, women and children—because they know they will face negligible consequences, if any at all.
Pan-Africanist and Black Panther leader Kwame Ture, formerly Stokely Carmichael, once said: “If a white man wants to lynch me, that’s his problem. If he’s got the power to lynch me, that’s my problem.”
Jeff Sessions is our problem. And we need to do all we can to stop him.