Civil rights leaders opposed Jeff Sessions’ appointment as U.S. Attorney General from the moment he was nominated by President Donald Trump last year for several glaring reasons. The former Alabama senator has a problematic history of using racist language, suppressing the votes of black and brown people, and has even praised the Ku Klux Klan. Yet, the announcement of his forced resignation on Wednesday is bittersweet. On one hand, Sessions can no longer use his power as Attorney General to oppress people of color. But, on the other hand, his abrupt removal further empowers Trump to potentially sabotage Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian election interference and reported collusion by the Trump campaign. Now that Sessions has been ousted, his acting replacement, Matthew Whitaker, who has voiced support to limit the investigation, will be in charge of the Department of Justice.
In a new scathing report, the Center of American Progress listed the policies and practices Sessions enacted to criminalize and terrorize communities of color during his short reign at the Justice Department. “After taking control of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), he pursued an aggressive and virulent policy agenda that sought to strip away every protection for people of color and other marginalized communities within the agency’s purview,” reads the report.
It goes on to list 25 ways Sessions and his DOJ hurt marginalized communities by assaulting civil rights, criminal justice, and immigration.
- A fair and accurate U.S. census is essential for the equitable distribution of federal resources and full political representation. But as attorney general, Sessions sabotaged the 2020 census by helping Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross add a new question about immigration status. The Sessions DOJ attempted to justify this blatant effort to suppress census participation by citing its responsibility to protect against voter suppression in communities of color.
- Hate crimes and white nationalist extremism are a resurgent threat to communities of color. But instead of expanding resources to combat hate, Sessions asked Congress to eliminate the DOJ’s Community Relations Service, which is dedicated to addressing racial tensions and preventing hate crimes.
- Voter purges are a devious suppression tactic designed to keep people of color by the thousands from voting by targeting them for removal from lists of registered voters. Instead of defending American citizens’ fundamental right to vote, the Sessions DOJ urged the Supreme Court to greenlight harmful purges nationwide.
- Black transgender individuals face heightened levels of discrimination and a devastating 20 percent unemployment rate. But as attorney general, Sessions threatened to make matters worse by reversing Obama-era policies that sought to protect transgender workers from employment discrimination.
- While the national unemployment rate was less than 5 percent in 2017, it was more than 10 percent among Hispanics with disabilities and almost 14 percent among blacks with disabilities. Yet, in 2018, Sessions revoked critical employment protections for people with disabilities, finding that they were “unnecessary, inconsistent with existing law, or otherwise improper.”
- Hate speech is a pervasive problem on college campuses, one that undermines access to higher education for students of color. But Sessions exploited his position as attorney general to criticize and make light of universities that seek to create inclusive, hate-free learning environments.
- Transgender students of color face tremendous barriers to education. But under then-Attorney General Sessions, the DOJ rescinded federal protections for transgender students in K-12 schools, denying them the ability to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity.
- Affirmative action plays a critical role in expanding access to higher education for students of color and in closing stark racial disparities in degree attainment. But under Sessions’ leadership, the DOJ consistently sought to undermine race-conscious admissions policies.
- African Americans or black Americans are more than twice as likely as white Americans to be arrested for drug possession, despite using and dealing drugs at comparable rates. As attorney general, Sessions rejected the data and ordered prosecutors to pursue the harshest drug sentences possible—without regard to an individual’s role in a drug conspiracy. Sessions also ordered prosecutors to pursue the death penalty in certain nonviolent drug trafficking cases. Black Americans already face 19 percent longer sentences for the same crimes as whites and are far more likely to receive the death penalty. This DOJ policy will only exacerbate racial disparities.
- In his role as attorney general, Sessions pushed prosecutors to crack down on marijuana possession in states where it is legal and lobbied legislators to reverse federal protections for medical marijuana. According to a recent CAP/GBA Strategies survey, more than two-thirds—68 percent—of voters support marijuana legalization, including a majority of Democrats, Independents, Republicans, and the three largest racial and ethnic groups.
- Police are almost four times more likely to use force against black people than against white people. Again rejecting the data, then-Attorney General Sessions eliminated training and supervision requirements for law enforcement seeking to obtain surplus weapons and equipment from federal agencies.
Click here to read the rest of the report, titled 25 Ways Sessions and His Justice Department Criminalized and Terrorized Communities of Color.
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