Discussion in 'Politics and the Topics of the day' started by thoughtone, Jan 10, 2017.
What's the temperature down there in the Heart of Dixie?
Jeff Sessions Said He 'Prosecuted the Head of the Klan.' Here's What Actually Happened.
source: The Atlantic
What Jeff Sessions's Role in Prosecuting the Klan Reveals About His Civil-Rights Record
Defenders of Trump’s choice for attorney general have cited an Alabama lynching case as evidence of his commitment to racial equality. The real story is more complicated.
Thirty-five years ago, the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Southern District of Alabama played a crucial role in ensuring that the lynching of 19-year-old Michael Donald by two members of the Ku Klux Klan was investigated and punished.
That gruesome case has become newly relevant with the nomination of Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions to run the Department of Justice. Sessions was the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District when the Donald case was tried.
In 1986, Session’s nomination for a federal judgeship was rejected after one of his former subordinates, Thomas Figures, alleged that Sessions called him “boy,” made remarks disparaging civil-rights organizations, and made jokes about the KKK, even as his office was investigating the Donald lynching. Civil-rights groups have harshly criticized Sessions’s nomination, arguing that he is hostile to federal anti-discrimination and voting-rights law. Six members of the NAACP, including president Cornell Brooks, were arrested in early January after staging a sit-in at Sessions’s Mobile office.
After Sessions’s nomination was announced, CNN’s Jake Tapper asked incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus whether Sessions’s record suggested he would be hostile to reforming local police agencies accused of racial bias. “Look at this man's life,” Priebus replied, citing the Donald case. “He prosecuted that person … for the murder. He then presided over the execution of this person.”
Other defenders of Sessions have used the Donald case in similar ways. A letter from 23 former assistant attorney generals cited the fact that he had “worked to obtain the successful capital prosecution of the head of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan” as evidence of his “commitment to the rule of law, and to the even-handed administration of justice.” The Wall Street Journal said that Sessions, “won a death-penalty conviction for the head of the state KKK in a capital murder trial,” a case which “broke the Klan in the heart of dixie,” and The New York Post praised him for having “successfully prosecuted the head of the state Ku Klux Klan for murder.” Grant Bosse wrote in the Manchester, New Hampshire, Union Leader wrote that “when local police wrote off the murder as a drug deal gone wrong, Sessions brought in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, and brought Hays and the Klan to justice.”
Sessions himself recently listed the case as one of the “ten most significant significant litigated matters” he had “personally handled” on his Senate confirmation questionnaire. And in 2009, Sessions told National Review that there had been a campaign to “smear my record,” whereas in fact, he had “prosecuted the head of the Klan for murdering somebody.”
No one involved in the case disputes that Sessions lent his support to the prosecution. “Not all southern United States attorneys welcomed civil-rights division attorneys into their districts back then,” said Barry Kowalski, a former civil-rights division attorney who was one of the main lawyers on the investigation, and who defended Sessions in his 1986 confirmation hearing. “He did, he cooperated with us completely.”
However, in seeking to defend Sessions from charges of racism, Sessions’s allies, and even Sessions himself, seem to have embellished key details, and to have inflated his actual role in the case, presenting him not merely as a cooperative U.S. attorney who facilitated the prosecution of the two Klansmen, but the driving force behind the prosecution itself. The details of the case don’t support that claim.
Michael Donald’s lifeless body was found strapped to a tree in Mobile with thirteen knots, a “Klan signature,” as author Lawrence Leamer puts it in The Lynching: The Epic Courtroom Battle That Brought Down the Klan, his history of the Donald case. He had been beaten savagely, his throat had been slashed, and “his blue jeans and blue jeans jacket were covered in dirt and dried blood.” A cross was burned on the lawn of the Mobile courthouse a few hours before Donald’s body was discovered.
Even so, Leamer wrote, Montgomery police disregarded the possibility that Donald had been lynched. Instead they pursued theories that Donald had been sleeping with a white co-worker at the Mobile Press-Register, where he worked part-time, and had been killed in retaliation. They told reporters that Donald had been murdered in a drug deal gone bad, and arrested three men who were later found to have nothing to do with the case. It had “nothing to do with race,” but rather, “three junkies had killed this lowlife black man who thought he could take drugs from them and not pay.”
When the Donald family’s lawyer, State Senator Michael Figures, suggested that “extremists” were involved, according to a 1989 article in the Los Angeles Times, white people accused him of “stirring up racism.”
When the drug-dealer and affair theories didn’t pan out, police “tried to gather evidence that Donald had led a secret criminal life.” Learner detailed their efforts. “A white transvestite prostitute volunteered that he had slept with Donald and that the teenager was a “hustler.” When the prostitute saw Donald’s photo in the paper, he admitted it did not look like the man he knew, but the police, nonetheless, tried to validate his story. They found someone else who said that Donald was a drug dealer.”
The fact that a prominent Klansman recently owned property across the street was seen as simply more evidence the Klan could not have been responsible. The head detective believed “the Klan would not lynch somebody practically on their own front lawn,” according to Leamer. The cops told the FBI this was a simple street crime, so they lost interest.
It would later become clear that Donald had been lynched because the Klan sought to make an example of any black man it could find. A mistrial had recently been declared in the prosecution of a black man, Josephus Anderson who had killed a white police officer named Gene Ballard. (Anderson was later retried and convicted.)
Witnesses later testified that Bennie Jack Hays, the second-highest-ranking Klansman in Alabama, had said at a KKK meeting after the mistrial, and two days before Donald’s death, “If a black man can kill a white man, a white man should be able to get away with killing a black man.” Hays told the two Klansmen who eventually carried out the lynching that they shouldn’t do it until after he closed on the sale of a pair of properties on the street where they intended to leave the body.
“The police department told me when they looked at it, ‘You’ll never solve that case, it’s just an unsolvable case,’” said Bob Eddy, a former state criminal investigator who worked the Donald case. “You just have to know the climate in those times, most of those guys who were law enforcement, not all of them, but most of those guys, a lot of those guys, they didn’t care if you killed a black guy.”
The Donald family later said that the motivation behind the murder was immediately obvious to them. “Black people don’t hang people,” Donald’s sister Betty Wyatt told Michael Wilson of the Mobile Register in 1997. The black community in Mobile organized protests to express their frustration with authorities and the lack of progress in the case, and civil rights leaders like Jesse Jackson and Joseph Lowery urged them to keep up the fight.
Michael Figures’s brother Thomas, an assistant U.S. attorney then working under Jeff Sessions, and the only black assistant U.S. attorney in the state, watched as the local authorities botched the investigation. According to Leamer, Thomas Figures was “endlessly” persistent in trying to get the civil-rights division in Washington, D.C., to reopen the investigation into Donald’s murder, and worked with an FBI agent named James Bodman to obtain the evidence needed to reopen the case. The New York Times Magazine and the Mobile Register likewise credited Figures as the driving force behind getting the Justice Department to take a second look at the killing.
“Mr. Figures definitely did not want the case to end,” Sessions testified in 1986. By 1983, the FBI had reopened the investigation and managed to get one of the local Klansmen to slip up and implicate one of the murderers. “After hearing a lot of lies and following many unproductive leads, Figures and Bodman uncovered one key fact,” that on the night of the murder, one of the perpetrators had “returned to Bennie Hays's house with blood on his shirt,” the New York Times Magazine reported in 1986. “With this new evidence, the Justice Department convened an investigative grand jury in Mobile.”
By Kowalski’s account, which is backed up by Eddy and others, Sessions played a “supervisory role” and “couldn’t have been more cooperative and helpful in the case.” For instance, Kowalski recalled Sessions allowing them to use his office to interview Klan members, who Kowalski said found the official trappings of a federal prosecutor’s office intimidating.
“Sessions asked what we needed, and I said, in order to get a capital murder conviction, we need these things, and he said that in that regard whatever the federal agents did or the FBI did he would make those things available,” said then-Assistant District Attorney Thomas Harrison, who prosecuted Hays in state court. “He did in fact do that.”
Chris Galanos, the District Attorney and lead prosecutor on the case before he was replaced by Harrison, claims that he and Sessions were the reason the federal investigation into Donald’s murder was reopened. “I believed then, and I believe now,” Galanos said, “that were it not for his assistance, the case would have remained unsolved for an indefinite length of time.” (Most accounts, including that of Leamer, the New York Times Magazine, the Mobile Register, do not describe the investigation this way––the latter two do not even mention Sessions in their lengthy accounts of the case).
Figures recalled a more complicated story as far as Sessions’s involvement is concerned.
In 1986, Figures testified before the Senate that while it was “literally true” that Sessions had not “obstructed the investigation of the murder of Michael Donald,” Sessions had “tried to persuade me to discontinue pursuit of the case.” Figures said that Sessions “remarked, with regard to the investigation, that the case was a waste of time, that it wasn’t going anywhere, that I should spend more time on other things, and that, if the perpetrators were found, I would not be assigned to the case.” Figures told the Senate that after the case went to the grand jury, and it “became increasingly apparent that we were going to break the case, Mr. Sessions attitude changed” and that he supported the prosecution.
Sessions’s statements to the Senate in 1986 about his supervisory role in the case are more modest than what he and his supporters say today, and while his testimony at the time generally did not directly contradict Figures’s account, Sessions insisted that he did not urge Figures to drop the case.
“He asked the FBI to go out and re-interview witnesses, and I concurred in that, or I was aware of it, and they were reinterviewed,” Sessions said. “And I remember distinctly saying, ‘We need to know who did this murder, and we do not have proof now, but we need to go do something about it.’”
In his 2016 Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire, Sessions wrote “When I became the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, I, along with Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Figures and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, worked to solve the murder.” The questionnaire also accurately identifies Hays as the “son of the local Klan chieftain.”
The federal attorneys were ultimately successful in forcing one of the perpetrators, Tiger Knowles, to testify against his accomplice Henry Hays, Bennie Hays’s son, and to plead guilty to a federal civil rights charge. The evidence they collected gave the state the crucial support it needed to pursue a murder charge against Hays.
Hays was prosecuted in state court by Harrison, a local assistant district attorney. Kidnapping and murder were not capital offenses, so in order to make Hays eligible for the death penalty, state prosecutors argued that Hays’s theft of a dollar from Donald turned the crime into murder in the course of a robbery––a crime punishable by death.
“The amount is not relevant, it’s the fact that he stole, that he took something from somebody holding a gun on him saying, give me whatever’s in your pocket,” explained Harrison. “That constitutes robbery under the laws of the state of Alabama, and was sufficient to bump it up from a murder case to a capital murder case and that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted a capital murder conviction of Henry Hays.”
It was a longshot, but the jury, and crucially, the judge, bought it. The jury convicted Hays and recommended life in prison, but the judge overturned the sentence and gave Hays the death penalty.
Hays was not the head of the KKK in Alabama, as Sessions would later claim to National Review––his father, Bennie Hays, was the second-highest-ranking Klansman. According to his brother Raymond, Henry, 27 at the time, committed the crime in part to impress his father, Raymond told the Register. Bennie Hays was later charged in connection with the murder, but he died in 1993 before he could be convicted.
Sessions has suggested that he played a major role in deciding that the case be tried in state court. “I insisted that the case eventually developed against one of the klansmen be sent to state court and tried there, despite our desire to be involved in it, because Alabama had the death penalty or life without parole,” Sessions testified in 1986.
But he had little choice––at the time, there was no way to prosecute a racist murder under federal law. The only option would have been an endlessly convoluted charge of conspiracy to deprive black defendants of a fair trial by intimidating witnesses, a crime in which Donald would not even have been the victim.
“To try to explain that charge to a jury would not be easy, there was a lot more we had to prove than first-degree murder, and secondly our the federal system in this country, we give the primary authority for prosecuting criminal acts to the state,” Kowalski said. “So unless there’s a particular reason not to let a state go forward we normally let the state prosecute.”
That made prosecuting Hays in state court the obvious, if not only possible decision––one Kowalski said both he and Figures recommended to their respective bosses.
After Hays’s conviction and death sentence, Sessions served as Alabama attorney general during his appeal, and opposed ameliorating his sentence. He took that stand against the wishes of civil-rights groups like the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which arranged for Hays’s representation by Rick Kerger during his appeal.
The author B.J. Hollars wrote in Thirteen Loops that Kerger was initially surprised by the request made by the NAACP LDF, but was told, “we work against the death penalty no matter who it’s directed against.”
That position persists to this day. As Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who gunned down nine black parishoners in a church in South Carolina in 2015 faced trial, NAACP LDF legal director Christina Swarns wrote a New York Times op-ed explaining that ”supporting the death penalty for Mr. Roof means supporting the use of a punishment that will continue to be inflicted on people who are nothing like him.”
As Alabama state prosecutors were trying Henry Hays, the segregationist turned civil-rights activist and Southern Poverty Law Center founder Morris Dees was hatching a plan to go after the United Klans of America as a whole, by trying them to the killing and suing them in civil court. The UKA was involved in many of the most infamous racist crimes of the civil-rights era, from the beating of freedom riders, to the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, to the assassination of the civil-rights activist Viola Liuzzo.
The idea, Leamer wrote, was that Dees would accuse the UKA of having a mock military structure, meaning that the killing of Michael Donald was an act encouraged by the group’s leader Robert Shelton, making the UKA itself liable. Dees “did not intend to argue that Shelton was directly involved with the murder,” Leamer wrote. “Instead he would allege that the Imperial Wizard headed an organization with a military structure whose custom, practice, and policy was to advance the goal of white supremacy through violence.”
It was a risky legal theory, Leamer wrote––most of Dees’s colleagues at the SPLC didn’t think it would work, and the judge in the case was extraordinarily skeptical at the outset. But as Leamer and Hollars wrote, there were several factors that turned in Dees’s favor. The first was that Beulah Mae Donald, Michael Donald’s mother, who was represented by Thomas Figures’s brother Michael, agreed to allow the case to be filed in her name. Shelton’s attorney, John Mays, did not offer a defense, or seek a directed verdict from the judge. Dees skillfully played the Klan members against one another, obtaining internal UKA documents that would prove to be pivotal during the trial, and he exploited Mays’s failure to take the case seriously.
But the most powerful moment during the trial was the testimony of Tiger Knowles, who stoically recited his role in the murder, apologized to Beulah Mae Donald, and implicated the Klan as an organization in Donald’s death, imploring the jury to find the UKA liable.
“I do hope you decide a judgment against me and everyone else involved. And whatever it is, it may make a hardship,” Knowles told the court. “But I hope you decide on it. Because you people need to understand that this can’t happen.”
The jury returned a $7 million verdict that bankrupted the organization, leaving one of the most dangerous iterations of the KKK fatally weakened. In 1994, Shelton told the Associated Press that ''The Klan is my belief, my religion. But it won't work anymore. The Klan is gone. Forever.''
Richard Cohen, the legal director of the SPLC, and one of the attorneys representing the Donald family, said that “in addition to helping to develop the evidence in the criminal investigation that we used, Sessions’s office was helpful in arranging for an FBI agent to testify for us at the civil trial.”
It was however, the civil case pursued by the SPLC, not the prosecution of Henry Hays, that “broke the Klan in the heart of dixie.” Hays was not the head of the KKK in Alabama, and he was prosecuted by state authorities, not the U.S. attorney’s office. And according to Sessions’s former subordinate Thomas Figures, that prosecution would never have occurred had Sessions had his way.
Figures was later charged with attempting to bribe a witness in a drug case. He was acquitted, and went on to serve as a municipal judge. His supporters argued that the charge was retaliation for his testimony against Sessions, who said he had recused himself from the case. Asked by the New York Times about the allegation, Sessions said "I'm sorry people see it that way. It is a matter I would like to see behind me, and I'm sorry to see it come up again."
Sessions’s role in investigating the Donald murder has been a go-to rebuttal to the decades-old allegations of racism.
“Those who try to argue that Sessions is a racist have to reckon with his legal track record — a record that included pursuing the ultimate penalty against a Klan killer,” wrote David French in National Review.
While Sessions’s remarks about race are likely what derailed his nomination to a federal judgeship in 1986, civil-rights groups today have focused not just on those remarks, but also on the record on civil rights he has amassed since. Given that many of these groups have consistently opposed the use of the death penalty, Sessions’s support for its use in the Donald case seems more likely to reinforce than to allay their concerns.
It would be out of character for Sessions not to have supported the death penalty in the Donald case––Sessions is such a staunch supporter of the death penalty that in 2002 he publicly opposed the Supreme Court decision ruling that execution of mentally disabled people violated the Constitution. “The Court seemed to say that they had divined, somehow, that the American people had evolved in their thinking and, therefore, the laws their legislatures had passed were not valid anymore; that they could not execute people who were retarded,” Sessions said.
Supporters have repeatedly pointed to Sessions’s record to insist that he is in fact a champion of civil rights. But as in the Donald case, those claims have rarely held up to close scrutiny. Despite once claiming to have filed dozens of desegregation cases, Sessions appears to have filed none––instead taking credit for work done by the civil-rights division on which his signature was included merely as a formality. By contrast, one of Sessions’s signature efforts as a prosecutor was an attempt to convict three voting-rights activists on charges of fraud for assisting elderly voters in filling out ballots.
Sessions’s record as a senator has led civil-rights groups, including the NAACP, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and Color of Change, to oppose his nomination and question whether he would fairly administer laws protecting against discrimination on the basis of race, gender, or sexual orientation. He opposed the decriminalization of homosexual sex, opposed same-sex marriage, blamed school shootings on laws protecting disabled students, and supported the Supreme Court decision striking down key portions of the Voting Rights Act, saying “now if you go to Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, people aren't being denied the vote because of the color of their skin." More recently, he was among the first to back Donald Trump’s proposal for a ban on Muslims entering the country, and trivialized the president-elect’s admission of sexual assault.
The Trump transition has urged supporters to highlight Sessions’s “strong civil rights record.” But the more closely that record is examined, the less it looks like the record of a civil-rights advocate of any kind, and the more it appears to be the standard, unremarkable record of a longtime conservative Republican from a Southern state.
Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III is the embodiment of a white supremacist; a Klansman in a suit. A 70 year old reincarnation of Bull Conner or George Wallace the “segregation forever” Governor of Alabama who created the atmosphere that resulted in the bombing of the 16th St Baptist Church which killed four young black girls and maimed dozens of Black church attendees.
A man who voted nay in the U.S. Senate confirmation vote for the woman he will replace (if confirmed) Loretta E. Lynch; Sessions epitomizes the antithesis of the U.S. Department of Justice's credo— which is engraved on the front of the United States Supreme Court building— "Equal Justice Under the Law".
Sessions DOES NOT BELIEVE in "Equal Justice Under the Law" for Blacks, Hispanics, Females, and Homosexuals— we know this from his voting record.
In 2015 in an effort to disenfranchise Black voters in Alabama, the State of Alabama closed virtually ALL the Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) offices in the Black districts in the state where one could obtain a voter identification card. Sessions approved of his States Black voter suppression tactics.
It is a wretched snap-shot of our distorted political landscape (gerrymandering, electoral college, citizens united) that in 2017 such a retrograde 1960's apartheid era throw-back could become the next U.S. Attorney General.
Black U.S. RepubliKlan Senator from South Carolina Tim Scott and Condi Rice both support the racist Sessions
Jeff Sessions, Alabama's Neo-Confederate, Racist, Misogynist, Anti-Immigrant, Obstructionist U.S. Senator Is Named Attorney General
If the past is prologue, civil rights, voting rights and women's rights are all under threat
Protesters dressed as members of the Ku Klux Klan greet Sen.
Jeff Sessions at his attorney general confirmation hearing Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017
By Steven Rosenfeld / AlterNet
Starting last August, Donald Trump taunted black and Latino voters at his mostly white rallies by trashing inner cities and telling them to vote for him. "What do you have to lose?" Trump kept saying.
Now the answer is clear—the gains of the mid-20th-century’s civil rights movement; the reproductive rights movement and the right to legal abortion; this century’s LGBT equality movement; and the hopes of millions of migrants facing forcible deportation are just some of the things people have to lose. And those nightmare scenarios are just the beginning with Trump’s appointment of Republican Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions as Attorney General.
Since America is now divided into red and blue states, the classification that began in 2000 and is now seemingly permanent, it is appropriate to use Civil War references when considering the next Attorney General, the ultimate neo-Confederate. The namesake of Sen. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, the ex-Alabama attorney general, is P.G.T. Beauregard, the general who ordered the attack on Fort Sumter that started the War of the Southern Rebellion. Former Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy said Jeff Sessions demonstrated a "clear and convincing case to gross insensitivity to the questions of race." Sessions once told Gerald Hebert, who today runs the Campaign Legal Center, one of Washington’s best public interest firms, that a white voting rights lawyer was a “disgrace to his race.”
As Sarah Wildman wrote in the Guardian in 2009, highlighting Sessions’ enlarged role on the Senate Judiciary Committee, he first emerged on the national political stage in the 1980s, when President Ronald Reagan appointed him as a federal judge and the same committee, including Republican senators, rejected him for being too racist. She continued:
“The young lawyer became only the second man in 50 years to be rejected by the Senate judiciary committee,” Wildman wrote. “The reasons for his rejection… had to do with a soupy mix of dubious and arguably racist moves, comments and motivations on the part of the Alabama native that led Senator Ted Kennedy to announce it was 'inconceivable … that a person of this attitude is qualified to be a U.S. Attorney, let alone a United States federal judge.' Later Kennedy would say the hearings created a 'clear and convincing case to gross insensitivity to the questions of race' on the part of Sessions. His Democratic colleague, Senator Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio, called Sessions a man of ''marginal qualifications who lacks judicial temperament. … A nominee who is hostile, hostile to civil rights organizations and their causes."
Back then Sessions' problems began with a 1984 case known as the Marion 3, in which he prosecuted three civil rights workers over what he perceived as voting fraud. As Harvard Law School’s Lani Guinier noted in her book Lift Every Voice, before 1965 there were "virtually no blacks registered to vote in the 10 western Black Belt counties of Alabama." Sessions didn’t like what was changing with voting rights drives. This was the 1980s, not the 1960s. “Sessions had labeled the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) ‘un-American’ and ‘communist-inspired,’ Hebert testified at those hearings. Hebert said that Sessions argued the groups 'forced civil rights down the throats of people.'"
Fast-forward to the 2016 presidential campaign, where Sessions was one of Trump's early Senate supporters and was eerily in sync with Trump’s repeated claims that unnamed Democrats—people of color living in cities like Philadelphia—were preparing to steal the election from him and GOP vigilante voting posses were needed. Sessions fit right in with Trump’s deliberate rekindling of American white supremacists.
But Sessions isn’t just a neo-Confederate on matters of race, he is also vehemently anti-choice. In a statement reacting to the appointment, Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said, “The last person women and families need in this job is someone who has repeatedly given a pass to individuals who commit acts of violence against abortion clinics, doesn't take sexual assault seriously, and was determined to be too racist by a GOP-led Senate to become a federal judge. But that's who Jeff Sessions is. His record of misogyny and racism makes him unfit to be the country's top lawyer. The American people deserve far better, but with Donald Trump at the helm, we know we won't get it.”
NARAL’s statement noted Sessions' long anti-choice record. “In the Senate, he repeatedly voted to allow violent, convicted anti-abortion offenders to escape their court-levied fines in bankruptcy, voted against a resolution in support of Roe v. Wade, and voted for the unconstitutional 20-week abortion ban. He has also voted against protections against clinic violence, as well as to defund Planned Parenthood. When President-elect Donald Trump said that he could grab a woman by the pussy, Jeff Sessions claimed that it was not sexual assault.”
Sessions' first big test is likely to come with Trump’s pledge to deport millions of undocumented migrants, which is in sync with Sessions’ own fervent opposition to any immigration reform. He has been vehemently opposed to any proposal that could be seen as a “path to citizenship” while in the Senate, even though, as the Huffington Post noted, the man who attended “all-white segregated schools” has belatedly said he regrets not getting involved in the Civil Rights Movement as a younger man.
“As a child and a teenager, I saw evidence of discrimination virtually every day,” he said. “Certainly I feel like I should have stepped forward more and been a leader and a more positive force in the great events that were occurring.”
We’ll soon see what great events Sessions will unleash. Don’t be surprised if the past is prologue to the future.
As Attorney General, Jeff Sessions
Would Destroy the DOJ’s “Crown Jewel”
by Alice Speri | January 10, 2017
Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, whose confirmation hearing to become the next attorney general begins today, is no fan of federal consent decrees, one of the practices that have become the hallmark of the Justice Department’s civil rights work over the last eight years.
Following the 1991 police assault of Rodney King in Los Angeles, the DOJ started investigating law enforcement agencies, often following high-profile incidents, looking for a “pattern or practice” of excessive force and civil rights violations. Upon releasing its findings, the DOJ would often sue or threaten to sue the agency in question, pushing it to adopt reforms through settlements or court-enforced agreements.
Since then, dozens of police departments, as well as jails and prisons, have come under DOJ investigation, some more than once, but it wasn’t until the Obama administration that the department began to pursue reform more aggressively and substantially involve local communities in the process. In recent years, the DOJ’s Civil Rights division issued one scathing report after another, forcing cities like Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore to acknowledge widespread and systemic bias and abuse by their police departments. Increasingly, cities and police departments themselves have been preempting investigations and asking for DOJ intervention through “voluntary reviews” — a less litigious alternative to consent decrees carried out under the department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS).
During the Obama administration, the Civil Rights division — which Attorney General Eric Holder repeatedly referred to as the DOJ’s “crown jewel” — opened 25 investigations of law enforcement agencies, resulting in 19 agreements and 14 consent decrees. But President-elect Donald Trump has called the push for greater police accountability a “war on police,” and Sessions, who if confirmed would be in charge of overseeing such investigations, has said they are an intrusion on local authority and an overreach by the DOJ.
“One of the most dangerous, and rarely discussed, exercises of raw power is the issuance of expansive court decrees,” he wrote in the introduction to a 2008 policy paper on the practice. “Consent decrees have a profound effect on our legal system as they constitute an end run around the democratic process.”
With less than two weeks to go until it takes over, the next administration’s hostility towards the civil rights work of the DOJ, and criminal justice reform more broadly, has advocates and communities dealing with police abuse worried they will lose federal support in their fight for more accountable law enforcement. That’s especially true in cities like Chicago and Baltimore, where DOJ investigations or consent decrees are pending, as well as in places where residents and elected officials have asked the department to intervene.
“The Obama administration can begin investigations and require the new administration to follow up, but there’s nothing they can do about the way the new administration will conduct those investigations,” said Jeffery Robinson, an ACLU deputy legal director working on criminal justice and racial justice issues. “There are investigators that if the police say, ‘There’s nothing here,’ they’ll just say, ‘Fine, we don’t need to look any further.’”
“If Jeff Sessions is the attorney general, it is up to him to determine whether to start an investigation of a local police department that could lead to a consent decree, and his view is that the federal government shouldn’t do that,” he added. “The real concern is that the DOJ will simply walk away from its responsibility to police the police.”
Running Out of Time
The prospect of a DOJ that will leave them alone is welcome news to some in law enforcement.
Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke — a boisterous Trump supporter and rumored pick for a spot in his administration — put that plainly in a Facebook statement in response to a local congresswoman’s call for the DOJ to investigate the Milwaukee County jail he oversees, where four people, including a newborn, have died since April.
“After January 20, 2017, Sen. Jeff Sessions will become the new attorney general of the U.S. Department of Justice,” Clarke said in the statement. “He will take the partisan politics out of decision making at DOJ.”
In December, Rep. Gwen Moore shared a letter in which the DOJ said it was “considering” whether an investigation of the jail might be necessary. But Clarke, who blamed the victims and threatened the county’s medical examiner over the jail deaths, called the possibility of a DOJ investigation “fake news” and said Rep. Moore “spends too much time embracing criminals.”
“Sheriff Clarke has indicated publicly that he’s not concerned about any legal liability because he’s going to have Jeff Sessions for attorney general,” Moore told The Intercept. “He thinks he can get away with it.”
Moore said she can’t blame the DOJ for not being able to pursue an investigation “at this late date” — though she still hopes they will announce one, forcing the next administration to at least follow up. “This is not going to go away because we’ve had a transition,” she said. “The baby’s still dead, the man is still dead, Sheriff Clarke is still the sheriff, and I’d be terrified if my son, daughter, loved one, or any of my constituents were in jail under his authority.”
A spokesperson for the DOJ declined to comment on whether the department plans to pursue that investigation and on pending cases — including in Chicago, Baltimore, Orange County, and Louisiana. But both the civil rights division in charge of investigations and the COPS office leading voluntary reviews showed no signs of slowing down their work — in some cases even appearing to rush to complete it before the next administration takes over.
Last month, COPS announced a voluntary review of the St. Anthony, Minnesota, police department following the fatal shooting of Philando Castile during a traffic stop last summer. DOJ representatives are set to meet with community members there this week.
Meanwhile, the findings of two of the DOJ’s most anticipated reviews — a pattern and practice investigation of the Chicago police department and a voluntary review of the Milwaukee police department, launched after the killings of Laquan McDonald and Sylville Smith respectively — are also expected to be released before the next administration takes over, though the department declined to confirm whether that will happen.
In Baltimore — where the DOJ issued one of its harshest reports to date, following Freddie Gray’s death of a severed spine after officers tossed him unrestrained into a police van — Attorney General Loretta Lynch has made clear she hopes a consent decree will be agreed upon before President Obama leaves office.
“My honest opinion is that if it’s not signed before the next administration, there won’t be a consent decree,” said Baltimore City Councilman Brandon Scott, who wrote a letter to Baltimore’s mayor Catherine Pugh, warning that delaying the agreement would be “irresponsible.”
“The city is committed to police reform and folks want to see that happen, but we know that getting this part done with the DOJ is paramount to that,” he told The Intercept, adding that he expects police reform just won’t be a priority for the next administration.
“Folks have been fighting for police reform before the DOJ took up this issue, and we’ll be doing it after,” Scott said. “But it’s going to be up to us, local and state legislators, to keep that plane going and carry it ourselves.”
A Limited Tool
The next administration will inherit pending DOJ investigations and consent decrees — but that’s no guarantee that they’ll pursue those investigations aggressively and seeking the input of the community the way the DOJ has done in recent years, nor that they’ll reach meaningful agreements, with provisions in place to test compliance and ensure reform actually takes place.
In fact, before the current administration moved to strengthen the consent decree process, investigations rarely sought input beyond police departments themselves and consent decrees didn’t do much to ensure change. “Those agreements were not very effective, because they didn’t contain the basic tools of engaging the community and having robust provisions,” said Jonathan Smith, who for five years led the Special Litigation Section of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, in charge of pattern and practice investigations. “It’s not just about the number of investigations or even the number of agreements they reach. It’s about, what do those agreements actually say? And do they have the effect of bringing about meaningful reform?”
In several cities — like Cleveland, Miami, and New Orleans — the DOJ was back in town just a few years after an earlier consent decree failed to change anything. But this time around the agreements it entered were stronger, and the community more involved, said Smith, who thinks cities where decrees were finalized and are now in the hands of judges and independent monitors are those more likely to weather a potential withdrawal of federal support.
That’s the case for Cleveland, for instance, which first entered into an agreement with the DOJ in 2004, after an investigation into its police department’s use-of-force record. Less than a decade later, the DOJ was back with another report finding ongoing use-of-force issues, and following the police killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in November 2014, the city once again agreed to undertake a series of reforms.
Among those reforms was the institution of the Cleveland Community Police Commission, a body made up mostly of civilians tasked with drawing reform plans for the city. That process is slow and challenging, but it won’t be affected by a change of DOJ leadership, Mario Clopton-Zymler, the commission’s co-chair, told The Intercept.
“The judge said that regardless of what administration comes in, as long as the consent decree is in place he’s intent on enforcing it,” he said, referring to Solomon Oliver, chief judge of the Northern District of Ohio, who is overseeing the agreement.
“This consent decree process in Cleveland has already made a mark in how people think about policing and how community engages in the police process,” Clopton-Symler added. “Consent decrees processes for departments that have issues of unconstitutional policing should happen and should be encouraged.”
That is not to say DOJ investigations and consent decrees, even the more robust ones, are a satisfactory solution by themselves. As one strongly-worded report after the other was released in recent years, a certain degree of disillusion and cynicism gripped communities who saw the federal government validate the concerns they had long voiced yet still fail to accomplish reform.
Part of the problem is that the DOJ’s authority is limited to constitutional violations, and that establishing widespread patterns of discrimination is often easier than holding any individual officer accountable over civil rights violations. Even as it indicted their departments, the DOJ still did not bring charges against the officers who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson or Freddie Gray in Baltimore. A DOJ investigation of the officers who killed Eric Garner in New York, in July 2014, remains pending , and the department declined to say whether it will conclude before the next administration takes over.
“Our authority was to address constitutional violations and the Constitution is shockingly limited, it gives police extraordinary powers,” said Smith. “There needs to be a change in the way in which we think about policing that makes police a democratic institution that is effective and responsive and accountable. That’s something the DOJ can’t impose; the DOJ can say, you have to use force consistently with the Constitution, but there’s a lot of force that officers can use that’s consistent with the Constitution that is bad and shouldn’t be used.”
“There’s this gap between what’s lawful and what’s right,” he added. “What this next administration will do to give police greater constitutional authority and to tolerate a broader range of behavior as lawful worries me a great deal.”
Politics vs Justice
Smith worries the next DOJ administration will abandon its more “cutting edge” civil rights work — on criminal justice issues like policing and solitary confinement, but also on fair housing, LGBT rights, and religious discrimination. He predicts the DOJ will reverse some of the legal positions it adopted in recent years and withdraw to nonpartisan and uncontroversial investigations. And he anticipates a “pretty substantial exodus” of current DOJ staff, though, he added, “there’s an honor in staying and trying to purse as much of the important work as you can.”
President-elect Trump, for his part, has been vague about his plans for the DOJ, but he suggested previously that he might instruct his attorney general to investigate Black Lives Matter activists. “He has to have a law to prosecute them under, and as far as I know there’s no law against being black and there’s no law against being an activist,” Robinson, of the ACLU, said. “If he wants to try and come up with trumped up charges against Black Lives Matter activists, he should expect a vigorous response; we’re not going to put up with that.”
But the prospect of a DOJ under the helm of an attorney general whose nomination has been opposed by hundreds of law professors, lawyers, and civil rights advocates, has raised growing fears about the politicization of justice under the next administration — something Republicans have long accused President Obama of doing.
“For nearly eight years the Justice Department has twisted the Constitution and the laws passed by Congress to further the president’s liberal agenda,” Texas Senator John Cornyn said in a statement welcoming Sessions’ nomination. “It has put politics ahead of national security, and demonized those who protect us. It’s time to end the politicization of the Justice Department and start defending the rule of law.”
Smith rejected the accusation and countered the politicization of the DOJ is about to start now.
“We went into Newark when Cory Booker was the mayor, but we also went after Joe Arpaio in Phoenix. We went were the facts took us,” he said, adding that he never once felt pressured to pursue or drop a case for political reasons. “I had mayors say, ‘I’m a liberal mayor, why is the Obama administration investigating me?’ And I was able to say, politics has nothing to do with it. This administration was incredibly careful not to let politics shape its enforcement decisions.”
“I think that’s about to change.”
source: USA Today
Black pastors rally in Washington for AG nominee Jeff Sessions
Rev. Ralph Chittams is surrounded by other African-American ministers who support Sen. Jeff Sessions' attorney general nomination.
WASHINGTON —A group of black pastors Monday criticized African-American opponents of attorney general nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions for demonizing the Alabama Republican, instead characterizing him as someone who shows “respect and care for people of all races.”
The ministers are holdout Sessions supporters in a much larger crowd of opponents among Southern black clergy and African-American and civil rights groups, including the North Carolina Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Alabama NAACP and the activist group PICO, which uses congregations and churches to help in community organizing.
“There is an attempt by some to demonize people and call them racist when there is actually no proof for it,” Evangelical Bishop Harry Jackson said at a Capitol Hill news conference. “Let me say clearly, Sen. Sessions is not a racist.”
Jackson, the pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md., said Sessions “worked to bankrupt the KKK in Alabama with a $7 million judgment,” and helped to desegregate the state’s public school system.
But clergy who are leaders of the African-American organizing group PICO, sent a different message Monday to the Senate Judiciary Committee that will consider whether to recommend confirmation of Sessions by the full Senate. The committee will hear from Sessions on Tuesday.
Desmond Meade, president of the civil rights group Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, said Sessions has not shown a strong commitment to racial equality or social justice.
“When you talk about the position of attorney general of the United States, that is an extremely powerful position, and I think it is prudent to scrutinize any individual being considered,” Meade said. “I don’t think that is a form of racism, and I’m weary of anyone that doesn’t have a sustained history of campaigning for civil rights. [Sessions] has not demonstrated a strong commitment to the restoration of civil rights.”
In 1986, Sessions was denied a federal judgeship after allegations of racism in his decisions as a U.S. attorney in Alabama. At least one former colleague testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Sessions supported the Ku Klux Klan until he realized its members used marijuana.
The Heart of Dixie is a Red State and in the end, as know, the temperature is and the result will be RED.
KING: Amid Jeff Sessions confirmation hearings, Senate Democrats have their own problems with bigotry
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Tuesday, January 10, 2017, 9:55 AM
Chuck Schumer (r.) doesn't has a single African-American on his senior staff.
(Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call,Inc.)
Sen. Jeff Sessions begins his Senate confirmation hearings Tuesday as he prepares to become Donald Trump's Attorney General. The man has a long and painful history of bigotry. He was the first U.S. Senator to endorse Donald Trump for President and is generally considered among the most conservative members of the entire Senate. It can't get much worse than having him as Attorney General. That's why it pains me to have to address problems within the ranks of the Democratic Party. While it's absolutely true that we should unify behind the Senate in opposition to Jeff Sessions, Democrats in the Senate have their own problems with bigotry.
This past November, just a few weeks after the election, a respected black staff member who works for a popular Democrat in the U.S. Senate reached out to me confidentially to give me their perspective on how little Democrats in the Senate actually care about diversity.
"They are all so phony," the staffer told me. "Every time I hear any of the Democratic senators, including my own boss, talk about diversity, I cringe, because it's all one big lie. That they've been allowed to enjoy this reputation as a party that values diversity, while doing next to nothing of substance to align their actions with their words, is expert-level deception."
"Do you know how many black Chiefs of Staff exist in the Senate? The whole Senate? One. Out of one hundred chances they had to hire a black chiefs of staff, they hired just one African-American," the staffer said in disgust.
KING: Americans must not get used to Trump's constant dishonesty
"But hold up, hold up," the staffer continued. "I haven't even given you the punch line yet. Guess who the one black Chief of Staff works for?"
Sen. Jeff Sessions (l.) is preparing to become Donald Trump's Attorney General.
"Who?" I asked.
"Tim Scott," the staffer replied. "The lone black chief of staff in the entire United States Senate works for South Carolina Republican, Tim Scott. His office may be the most diverse in the entire Senate."
Most U.S. Senators have four senior staff positions. A few have three. The positions are: Chief of Staff, Deputy Chief of Staff, Communication Director and Legislative Director. And out of 336 senior staff members for the entire United States Senate, only 0.9% of them are black. That's three black folk hired to be senior staffers out of 336 opportunities. That's crazy!
KING: Will Hillary join crowd of Democrats who bail on promises?
Mind you, while the majority of white voters have backed the Republican candidate for President in every presidential election since 2000, voters of color have largely supported the Democratic Party, rallying behind Gore, Kerry, Obama twice, and Hillary Clinton. Yet only 0.9% of the senior staffers hired in the Senate are black.
U.S. Senator Tim Scott, Republican of South Carolina, speaks during an annual conference.
(SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
So, when I got an email Monday announcing that a new African-American senior staff member had just been hired, I was ecstatic. It may sound small, but each new hire is real progress.
Courtney Temple, a widely respected black woman, who has worked in Congress for years, was just hired as a Legislative Director. It's a very important position and she becomes just the fourth black senior staffer in the entire Senate. So, when I started scanning the email to see which Democrat hired her, I came across a name that was unfamiliar to me — Sen. Thom Tillis.
Guess why he was unfamiliar to me? He's not a Democrat. He's the Republican Senator from North Carolina.
So, the only black Chief of Staff in the entire Senate is Jennifer DeCasper, and she works for Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina.
Thom Tillis is the Republican Senator from North Carolina.Army Corps of Engineers.
(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
The only black Communications Director in the entire Senate is Darrell "DJ" Jordan, and he works for Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma.
And now we have Courtney Temple, who is working for Republican Thom Tillis of North Carolina.
In fact, the only Democrat in the entire United States Senate who has a single African-American senior staff member just started her job in the Senate last week. Sen. Kamala Harris, the new Democratic Senator of California, hired Clint Odom, a black man, as her Legislative Director — making him the only African-American senior staff member for a Democrat in the entire U.S. Senate. Republicans have three, Democrats have one, and he just started last week. It's a damn mess.
Go down the list of your "progressive" Democratic heroes in the Senate, and not a single one of them has an African-American on their senior staff — not my beloved Bernie Sanders, not Elizabeth Warren, not Cory Booker, not even my own Senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, one of the most diverse states in the country, have a single African-American on their senior staff. Out of the 46 Democrats in the Senate, plus the two Independents who primarily caucus with Democrats, out of those 48 members, only one, the newest in their rank, Kamala Harris, has a single African American on their senior staff.
It's a problem. In a week where we are supposed to be holding Republicans' feet to the fire on issues of race, diversity, and civil rights, Democrats need to do much more than talk the talk, they need to start walking the walk. And here's the thing, if your staff does not look like America, then I don't believe you care about diversity the way you say you do. It's fundamentally outrageous for Democrats to come to black voters in every election begging us to get out to the polls when they don't value our presence in their senior staffs.
Dear Democrats — stop telling us how much you value diversity and actually show us. That Republicans are outpacing you by 3-1 on hiring African-American leaders in senior staff positions is something that none of us should stand for.