Why I, a Survivor of Police Violence, Find Jeff Sessions’ Remarks So Disturbing

Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

In 2012 I was shot five times by Pittsburgh police. Although I survived, I was paralyzed and, soon thereafter, charged with aggravated assault and resisting arrest, charges that were thrown out three years later.

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Since that fateful incident, which began as a “routine” traffic stop, I’ve chosen to use my platform as an activist and a motivational speaker to promote greater police accountability, and to call for an end to racist policing practices that continue to keep black and brown communities under siege.

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This is one of many reasons that I find Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ latest dog-whistling to be so alarming.

This week, Sessions spoke before a meeting at the National Sheriffs’ Association, where he praised the office’s “Anglo-American heritage.” His remarks were a thinly veiled reference to law enforcement’s well-documented and persisting link to the Ku Klux Klan and its history of suppressing black Americans and other people of color through physical and systemic violence.

The deeply problematic context behind his words was best summed up in a tweet sent out later that morning by Bernice King, daughter of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, who vocally opposed Sessions’ judgeship back in 1986.

Illustration for article titled Why I, a Survivor of Police Violence, Find Jeff Sessions’ Remarks So Disturbing
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Illustration for article titled Why I, a Survivor of Police Violence, Find Jeff Sessions’ Remarks So Disturbing
Illustration for article titled Why I, a Survivor of Police Violence, Find Jeff Sessions’ Remarks So Disturbing
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Illustration for article titled Why I, a Survivor of Police Violence, Find Jeff Sessions’ Remarks So Disturbing


Predictably, a Department of Justice spokesperson attempted to convince the public otherwise, saying that Sessions was merely using an antiquated legal term used by lawyers and legal scholars. Perhaps that explanation would have flown if Sessions’ comments were not the latest in a long string of examples demonstrating his use of the attorney general’s office to promote a white supremacist agenda.

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Interestingly, Sessions’ mention of Anglo-Americanism as separate from other aspects of American heritage was obviously intended to celebrate only white sheriffs and police officers.

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The auspicious timing of Sessions’ remarks is also telling. Just last week, Mapping Police Violence and Boston University published new data highlighting the connection between structural racism and racial disparities in fatal police shootings. Key findings from the first-of-its-kind study show that:

  • Of 1,147 people killed by police in the U.S. in 2017, 25 percent, or 282 people, were black, despite making up only 13 percent of the population.
  • 30 percent of black people killed by police in 2015 were unarmed, compared with 21 percent of white victims.
  • A strong association was found between the racial disparity in fatal police shootings of unarmed people and structural racism in states.
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This data drives home the inherent truth behind Sessions’ speech: Black and brown communities are being disproportionately targeted and killed because America’s justice system continues to be governed by people with a vast lineage of racial subjugation and violence. The attorney general’s comments only reinforce the dangerous notion that law enforcement is bound not just by duty but also by racial and ethnic heritage to exert power in any way it sees fit, while using racial profiling, intimidation and abuse as its tried-and-true policing tools.

This is the legacy that allows structural inequities to persist, and for cases like mine and countless others across the country to happen. Despite Sessions’ romanticized interpretation of history, racism and white supremacy are firmly baked in our nation’s DNA. To accomplish real, lasting transformation of our deeply flawed criminal-justice system, other lawmakers and the whole of society must meet this hard truth head-on and break all ties with the torchbearers of America’s racist past.

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Leon Ford is a police-violence survivor, activist and author of the forthcoming book Untold. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram or at leonfordspeaks.com.

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DISCUSSION

cs-now
Common Sense

This type of article is what gives legitimate victims of crime and abuse a bad name. Mr. Sessions includes in a speach statements of gratitude and expressions of thanks for hard working sheriffs and police, correctly cites that locally elected sheriffs is a valuable and strong history of helping keep peace locally in the anglo american tradition.

1] An elected representative or two who has a poor understanding of history and little to no legal knowledge hears the word angl0 (and screams That man is a racist) 2] Lots of less educated or just over eager left wing journalists pile on, with hey there are people screaming racism based on Mr. Sessions remarks, he must be divisive and evil. He must be a racists. 3] Moderate and even left leaning publications like the BBC and Washington Post print clear articles pointing out that there is nothing racist in the least about this phrase which means common law tradition which came over from England, and people taking offense at their own stupidity is pointless.

4] Then the insanely stupid part starts. Other third parties who are either to lazy to learn the basic facts or who simply want to misunderstand on purpose put out statements like this article. Now asserting in the face of the obvious evidence to the contrary that not only is the remark which isn’t racist somehow immoral, it also must mean the person who made the remark supports the KKK, and is in fact somehow on the same side of anything that has ever been done by the police that was wrong.

Conclusion: If you want to complain about an issue at least find an example of it occuring that is real. Don’t try to turn your lack of education and understanding into an excuse to try to misconstrue another man’s words.