Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Trump Chooses Sessions for AG -- Do Words Count?


There have been a lot of loose words and disgusting, prejudiced remarks from Donald Trump since he hit the campaign trail and eventually captured the presidency in the 2016 election. During the campaign, it seems that every day Trump and his backers made news by spewing volatile, hateful comments whether he was using them to disparage President Obama, Hillary Clinton, immigrants, or women.

However, as we know, Trump never apologizes. His gigantic ego makes him see personal regret as a sign of weakness.

Now, Trump is busy choosing his cabinet and filling other important government positions. An uneasy nation wonders just how he will begin his term in office and keep his promise of “draining the political swamp.” Or, was that hardcore vow merely a metaphor used for the purpose of garnering votes?

Given Trump's aggressive nature and questionable leadership qualities, many believe he will merely dip into the murky waters of D.C. and replace major players with even more disgusting, mucky tenants who fit his own selfish agenda.

Example In Point -- Jeff Sessions

Trump recently announced that he would nominate Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions to be Attorney General, succeeding Loretta Lynch. Almost immediately this decision resulted in public concern as the press reminded the nation of some horrendous words once spoken by Sessions – words that cast him in a very disturbing light.

The Story of One Important Case

The case involved a young black man, Michael Donald, who had been kidnapped and brutally murdered by two members of the Ku Klux Klan in 1981.

The murder has been referred to as the last recorded lynching in the United States because his two attackers, Henry Hays and James “Tiger” Knowles, hanged his body from a tree in the pattern of mob lynchings.

Hays and Knowles had been angry because of the declaration of a mistrial in a judgment in Birmingham involving an African American charged with the murder of a white policeman. They, along with other members of Unit 900 of the United Klans of America, complained that having African-American members on the jury was the reason it had not convicted the defendant.

The same night the mistrial was declared, Klan members burned a three-foot cross on the Mobile County Courthouse lawn. Then after a meeting, Hays (age 26), and Knowles (age 17), armed with a gun and rope, drove around Mobile looking for a black person to attack.

At random, they spotted 19-year-old Michael Donald walking home after buying a pack of cigarettes. (Donald's mother later said smoking was his only vice. She did not like his smoking, but he felt that since he was enrolled in trade school, he was adult enough to smoke.)

The two kidnapped Donald, drove out to another county and a secluded area in the woods, attacked him and beat him with a tree limb. Then, they wrapped a rope around his neck, and pulled on it to strangle him, before slitting his throat and hanging him from a tree in a mixed neighborhood in Mobile, on Herndon Street across from a house owned by Klan leader and Henry's father, Bennie Jack Hays.

(Gita M. Smith. "Alabama case shows how father's sins were visited on son; Whites execution for killing black didn't end inherited racism.” Atlanta Journal-Constitution.)

The case became a landmark. After the men were convicted, Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center brought a federal civil suit on behalf of Beulah Mae Donald, the victim’s mother, connecting the murder to the Klan as an organization. In 1987 the jury returned a $7 million wrongful-death judgment, bankrupting the local chapter.

(Daniel M. Goldoct. “In the Bad Old Days, Not So Very Long Ago.” The New York Times. October 12, 2016.)

Words That Haunt Sessions Still

This is what happened one day in the 1980s as Jeff Sessions, then the U.S. attorney in Mobile Alabama, was talking over this unspeakable case ...

As Sessions learned that some members of the Klan had smoked marijuana on the evening of the slaying, he said aloud that he thought the KKK was: "OK until I found out they smoked pot."

Sessions insists he was joking. Reports say he did apologize for it. But the damage was done.

Thomas Figures, an assistant US Attorney who worked under Sessions in Mobile, testified that he was present when Sessions made the remark and said he did not regard it as a joke.

Figures also testified that on one occasion, when the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division sent the office instructions to investigate a case that Sessions had tried to close, Figures and Sessions "had a very spirited discussion regarding how the Hodge case should then be handled; in the course of that argument, Mr. Sessions threw the file on a table, and remarked, 'I wish I could decline on all of them,'" by which Figures said Sessions meant civil rights cases generally.

Figures, who was African-American and passed away last year, also told committee members that Sessions had called him "boy" on several occasions and once cautioned him to "be careful what you say to white folks" after Figures had spoken harshly to a secretary who was white.

The comment, and others like it, cost Sessions a federal judgeship in 1986 and have been repeated time and again in summary form in newspaper and magazine articles over the years.

(Scott Glover. “Colleague, transcripts offer closer look at old allegations of racism against Sen. Jeff Sessions.” CNN. November 18, 2016.)

Other Utterances and Misspeaks

Another federal prosecutor, J. Gerald Hebert, testified that Sessions had called the ACLU and NAACP "un-American" and "communist-inspired." According to Hebert, Sessions said the two groups "forced civil rights down the throats of people."

Hebert, a veteran civil rights prosecutor, told the committee he had "very mixed feelings" about testifying about the conversations that he said had taken place over a matter of years. He said he and Sessions would engage in "spirited debate" about civil rights and that he sometimes wondered if Sessions was baiting him with controversial statements. Sessions, he said, "has a tendency sometimes to just say something, and I believe these comments were along that vein."

Asked by a committee member whether he considered Sessions a racist, Hebert responded: "No, I do not."

(Scott Glover. “Colleague, transcripts offer closer look at old allegations of racism against Sen. Jeff Sessions.” CNN. November 18, 2016.)

In response to a question from Joe Biden on whether he had called the NAACP and other civil rights organizations "un-American", Sessions replied "I'm often loose with my tongue. I may have said something about the NAACP being un-American or Communist, but I meant no harm by it."

(Sheldon Goldman. Picking Federal Judges. 1999.)

In 1984, the then U.S. attorney Sessions prosecuted three civil rights workers who were registering black people to vote in Alabama for purportedly committing voter fraud. Sessions charged Albert Turner, his wife Evelyn Turner, and their fellow activist Spencer Hogue with 29 counts of fraud under the Voting Rights Act – with the group facing a sentence of over 100 years if they were convicted. All three were found not guilty.

Yet, the so-called “Marion Three” never received a sincere apology from Sessions. Instead, Sessions said he remained convinced that he did the right thing, but admitted he “failed to make the case.”

And, Bakari T. Sellers of The Guardian reports that some believe the senator’s existing hostility toward African Americans is proof that he has not learned anything from that experience.

(Bakari T. Sellers. “Jeff Sessions as attorney general: a terrifying prospect for black Americans.” The Guardian. November 10, 2016.)

The Guardian’s Sarah Wildman wrote in 2009, other testimony about Sessions from witnesses, including a Justice Department employee who said Sessions had called a white civil rights lawyer a “disgrace to his race” for taking on voting rights suits, resulted in Sessions becoming only the second rejected federal bench nominee in half a century.

Sellers and others also report report these Sessions' beliefs and actions:
  • Sessions believes the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is an “intrusive piece of legislation.”
  • He has opposed efforts to remove the Confederate flag from state property.
  • He has voted against the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.
  • He called for a constitutional amendment to stop granting automatic citizenship to people born in the US.
  • He agreed with President-elect Trump’s ban on Muslims migrating to the US.
  • He opposes same-sex marriage, and when Trump was quoted about grabbing women by their vaginas, Sessions called it a “stretch” to characterize that as “sexual assault.”

(“Civil rights groups denounce Sessions as Attorney General. Cable News Network Wire. November 18, 2016.)

In conclusion, Jeff Sessions has positive qualities and accomplishments that seem to make him qualified for the job of Attorney General. Yet, how can he represent equality in office when he has such a history of actual and alleged prejudice? It seems to me the combination of Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions spells trouble for any hopes of unity in America. "Locker room" sexist remarks and jokes about lynchings hover above the new White House.

Do words count? I believe they do. And, I also believe spiteful utterances are windows to the soul of a bigoted person. I'm sure Sessions regrets many of the things he has said that offend others. We all do. However, he is living the life of a public servant and seeking the position of head of the United States Justice Department, a position that would put him in control of U.S. Attorneys and all other counsel employed on behalf of the United States.

The attorney general wields great power and influence. The mission of the office is to supervise and direct the administration and operation of the Department of Justice, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Bureau of Prisons, Office of Justice Programs, and the U.S. Attorneys and U.S. Marshals Service, which are all within the Department of Justice.

Jeff Sessions, your record on civil rights is tarnished by your past. Now, it has come into question once more. Josh Gerstein of Politico reports that Trump's decision to nominate Sessions as attorney general may trigger an exodus of officials from the Justic Department's Anti-discrimination Unit.

Gerstein's article states that former officials said, “Longtime lawyers in the unit that enforces voting rights laws, conducts investigations into alleged police abuses and prosecutes hate crimes were already on edge about what Trump’s victory would mean for their mission, but the selection of Sessions pushed those fears to another level, former officials said.

"If there was a level above DEFCON One, it would be that," said Sam Bagenstos, who was the civil rights division’s No. 2 official from 2009 to 2011. "Jeff Sessions has a unique and uniquely troubled history with the civil rights division. ... From the perspective of the work of the enforcement of civil rights, I think the Sessions pick is a particularly troublesome one — more than anyone else you can think of.” 

(Josh Gerstein. "Sessions pick as AG could spark exodus from civil rights division." Politico. November 18, 2016.)

“Words - so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.”  

                                                           –Nathaniel Hawthorne

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