Wednesday, August 02, 2017

The AG Hustle

Jeff Sessions addressing the National Organization
of Black Law Enforcement Executives in Atlanta
Now obviously a lot of people in this country, myself included, have taken Attorney General Jeff Sessions to task over the troubling allegations of racism that have dogged him ever since President Ronald Reagan nominated him to be a federal judge back in 1986.

So it was somewhat unusual to see Sessions delivering opening remarks at the annual awards luncheon of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) in Atlanta on Tuesday.

As reporter Dave Huddleston reported for local Atlanta station WSB-TV, Sessions seemed nervous.

According to Huddleston, Sessions stumbled over and mispronounced words at times, I watched a few minutes of the full address on Youtube last night, and while Sessions is not known as a particularly engaging public speaker in the style of Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton or Barack Obama, his opening remarks and attempts at a bit of levity fell pretty flat.

And from a writer's standpoint it was a pretty poorly-written speech overall.

The assembled crowd of African-American law enforcement executives was visibly polite, but clearly subdued and Sessions was obviously uncomfortable - and understandably so.

Those executives were keenly aware of Trump's appearance in Long Island last Friday in front of members of the Suffolk County Police Department where he encouraged cops to hurt suspects being taken into custody like some kind of Third World authoritarian nitwit.

As their Website states, NOBLE represents more than 3,000 black law enforcement executives in the U.S. and around the world, "that represent chief executive officers and command-level law enforcement officials from federal, state, county, municipal law enforcement agencies, and criminal justice practitioners".

Statement issued by Suffolk County PD shortly
after Trump's comments last Friday
So the men and women in that room understand better than most that the implications of a sitting president of the United States endorsing the physical abuse of suspects in custody is tantamount to endorsing the unjustified use of excessive force against people of color.

And they were waiting for Jeff Sessions to address those comments and provide a measure of leadership from the Department of Justice.

But he side-stepped the issue like a ninny and it didn't sit well with that crowd.

In an interview after the event, Perry Tarrant, the National President of NOBLE, made clear where the members of NOBLE stand on Trump's deplorable comments, "We are not thugs, we are professionals." - echoing statements from a number of law enforcement agencies around the country including the Suffolk County PD.

So in his first high-profile appearance in front of a prominent group of African-American professionals, Sessions did almost nothing to counteract the widely-held perception of him as a right-wing bigot loyal to the ideals of the Old South in which he was raised.

This is after all, the same Attorney General who famously began his tenure earlier this year by announcing that under his oversight, the Department of Justice would drastically scale back its role as a watchdog of police departments where racially-biased policing and unnecessary use of deadly force against racial minorities was found to be rampant.

Remember, in a memorandum he issued back in April, Sessions ordered a federal review of scores of consent decrees signed between the DOJ and various local police departments that had been found to have been engaged in consistent patterns of biased policing based on race and ethnicity.

On the very same day of Session's appearance at the NOBLE award luncheon yesterday, Charlie Savage of the New York Times reported on an internal DOJ document indicating a new initiative focused on "investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions".

Do college completion statistics support the existence of
widespread discrimination against white students?  
Meaning that under the Trump administration the Sessions-run DOJ will now shift resources within the Division of Civil Rights towards the investigation of widespread discrimination against white students in college admissions.

Are there cases of white students facing unintended discrimination in college admissions as a result of quotas intended to ensure diverse student bodies in higher education reflective of the broader society?

Of course there are.

But to many observers, such a radical shift in the mission of the DOJ seems based less on fact and sound educational policy than on reactionary conservative ideology.

Especially given the results of a 2016 Pew Research study of college completion rates along racial and ethnic lines showing that "Whites and Asian students completed their programs at similar rates - 63% and 63.2%, respectively - while Hispanic and black students graduated at rates of 45.8% and 38%, respectively".  

And that doesn't mean that it's right or fair to the qualified individual whose college application is denied due to a policy intended to bring a measure of balance to an institution of higher learning after decades of systematic discrimination to qualified students of other races or ethnicities.

But to get back to the issue at hand, it's clear that Sessions, who'd just returned from El Salvador to meet with that nation's Attorney General on ways to combat the notorious MS-13 gang before addressing members of NOBLE on Tuesday, is using his position as the head of the Department of Justice to help jump start Trump's rocky anti-immigration efforts.

Trump's boogeymen? MS-13 gang members
Evidently Trump's recent series of bizarre tweets criticizing his own Attorney General as "weak" and "beleaguered" prodded Sessions to remember that the liar-in-chief expects the Department of Justice to function as an enforcement arm.

Not of the law, but as an enforcer of the right-wing conservative ideology that now defines White House domestic policy.

Is MS-13 is a particularly violent street gang with a nationwide membership?

Sure they are, and many individuals in communities like Long Island have fallen victim to its criminal activities, but as research by shows, Trump's attempt to paint MS-13 as some kind of existential threat to national security are widely overblown.

But having seen how quickly Trump fired former-FBI Director James Comey, and more recently former Press Secretary Sean Spicer and never-actual Director of Communications Anthony Scaramucci, Sessions has been quick to start dancing in tune to White House efforts to play up the threat of MS-13 as a symbolic boogeyman.

Not for the safety of American communities (if that was the case they'd be advocating for sensible restrictions on firearms and mandatory federal background checks on all firearms purchases.)

Instead they use MS-13 to try and justify Orwellian anti-immigration laws and garner support for Trump's beloved wall - which is looking more and more like just another one of the slew of empty bogus campaign promises he used to motivate his disenfranchised base of voters.

That's really why Sessions was speaking in Atlanta in front of NOBLE on Tuesday, but his message was overshadowed by the invisible tension present in the room; which, again, stems from his legacy as a federal prosecutor, and it wasn't lost on the audience.

Spencer Hogue & Evelyn and Albert Turner
As an assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama in 1985, Sessions famously filed 29 counts of voter fraud against three African-American grass roots community organizers, Albert Turner, his wife Evelyn and Spencer Hogue, Jr. - who came to be known as "The Marion Three".

In the 1960's Albert Turner had been a field organizer in rural Perry County, Alabama for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Turner marched with him in the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965 in support of voting rights - a pivotal event in the Civil Rights movement that helped lead to the passage of the Voter Rights Act of 1965.

As Evelyn Turner recalled in an interview with CNN back in January, she and her husband and associate Spencer Hogue, Jr. had been helping poor rural blacks in Marion, Alabama to register to vote for years when Session sought a grand jury indictment in federal court over 14 ballots that he claimed they had altered.

The jury found them not guilty but the case painted Sessions as a racist who had tried to use his power as a federal prosecutor to intimidate blacks at the voting booth - a dark legacy of the south that continues to this day under the guise of "voter integrity" laws passed by Republican-majority state legislators around the country.

I'd argue that his tenure as Attorney General thus far shows Sessions is really the same man today; albeit with far more reaching power.

Ever since the inauguration back in January, it's been difficult keeping up with the various categories of fallout from the White House because of the constant chaos, rampant ineptitude and jaw-dropping lack of professionalism and ethical standards.

Sessions is not a stupid man by any measure, and he could have used his speech in front of NOBLE yesterday to distance himself from Trump's endorsement of police violence against suspects in custody - but he didn't.

At the age of 71, I doubt this particular leopard has any intention, or desire to change his spots.

And any offense Sessions might have taken from Trump's dim-witted Twitter comments demeaning his tenure as Attorney General were probably just less important than the ideology he's supported all his life.

That's why he's doing the AG Hustle - he believes in the message of the music.

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