Jeff Sessions Is the New Jim Crow

By Michael Harriot, The Root

Perhaps the worst thing about America’s mistreatment of black people in this country has nothing to do with the violence inflicted against us or the centuries of historic subjugation we’ve endured. It is the constant disregard for our voices that frustrates us most.

Black America is the neighbor in the horror movie who warns the nice white couple not to move into the haunted house. We are the disheveled professor who is always dropping his papers, but warns the hero of the film that—according to his calculations—some really bad shit is about to happen. The smiling couple and the heroic protagonist always wave us off, and the bad shit always happens. No one ever listens to us.

Take Jeff Sessions, for instance.

When Donald Trump announced his pick for attorney general, the whole of black America raised our hands and said, “You’ve gotta be kidding.” We knew the Twitterholic’s promise to “make America great again” was a subtle dog-whistle pledge to his “alt-right” conservative base to reclaim the white man’s position at the top of America’s class hierarchy. The eight years without a white man in the White House had rattled them, and now it was time for them to reclaim their glory.

To do this required a singular figure. Sure, an orange snot-rag, a former reality-show host, could convince undereducated white people to vote for him, but who would do the heavy lifting? Who had the experience, expertise and ability to systematically strip a people of their constitutional rights and legally turn back the hands of time? Was there anyone in the country who could serve as the new Jim Crow?

Enter Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III.

Even his name sounds like it has a handlebar mustache and grew up on a plantation with slave quarters out back and spittoons in every room. The Alabama senator has a history of racism that extends backward toward the horizon of the post-civil-rights era. When Trump was just an aspiring charlatan, still living off his daddy’s money, Sessions was busy warning a fellow black attorney to be careful how he talked to white people. Thirty-five years before the Senate confirmed him to lead the part of the government that enforces civil rights, Sessions told a white civil rights attorney that he was a “traitor to his race.” He was even deemed too racist to fill a federal judgeship during the administration of Conservative Jesus: Ronald Reagan.

But now the conservatives have a new directive. They have all flung aside their pledges to reach across the aisle and expand their tent because they’ve realized that the base of their party has been hijacked by neo-Nazis, Confederate-flag wavers and xenophobes. There is no longer any doubt about what specific time the “again” part of Trump’s motto references, and they have selected the one man who can take them there:

Jeff Sessions, the new-millennium Jim Crow.

If you think this is Trump-like hyperbole, joining the alarmist narrative surrounding Kim Jong-Orange, think again. Allow us to list four specific ways in which Sessions’ Department of Justice will take America back to Jim Crow again:

Policing: Under President Barack Obama, the Department of Justice investigated at least 25 police departments for violating minorities’ civil rights, and forced 19 police departments into changing their policies, but the new attorney general has vowed to “pull back” on that tactic. The Trump DOJ will ignore the wealth of data that shows how police departments target minorities for fines, arrests and traffic stops (pdf), even though Sessions admits that those strategies might result in more civil rights violations. Although he acknowledges that crime in America is at an all-time low, Sessions says, “We need to return to the ideas that got us here, the ideas that reduce crime and stay on it.”

To make it clear: The federal agency charged with enforcing the law has announced that it will pivot away from what actually works and return to a strategy that has demonstrably been proved to be biased and unconstitutional. Police now have carte blanche to continue their discriminatory practices without fear of oversight or prosecution.

How is this a return to Jim Crow? According to Tuskegee University’s “Lynchings White and Negroes” (pdf), during the years of Jim Crow (1890-1965), 2,911 black Americans were lynched, averaging about 39 per year. In 1892, the worst year for lynching, 191 blacks were lynched.

In 2016, 266 black people were killed by police.

Thanks to “the gentleman from Alabama,” now they don’t have to worry about taking responsibility for it.

Voting rights: It is not true that black people could not vote under Jim Crow. Racists just wouldn’t let black people exercise their freedom to do so. As full citizens, we always had the constitutional right to vote. Across the country, but mainly in the South, whites used literacy tests, property mandates, poll taxes and a litany of other unconstitutional barriers to prevent African Americans from casting ballots. The Voting Rights Act not only made sure blacks weren’t denied access to voting booths but also put specific measures in place to ensure that these rights were upheld.

After the Supreme Court in 2013 dismantled the key section used to enforce the Voting Rights Act, the Obama Justice Department aggressively fought the Republican state legislatures that rushed to enact new restrictions on voting. It battled the state of North Carolina until the Supreme Court struck down its voter-ID law, and took Texas to court over its voting restrictions.

Until Jeff Sessions dropped the case.

In fact, the man Sessions tapped to be the deputy assistant attorney general of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, John Gore, is the attorney who traveled across the country gerrymandering congressional districts to exclude African Americans and filed the case supporting voter-ID laws in Virginia.

There is no argument as to whether voter-ID laws suppress minority votes—it has been proved. Many people wonder why Republicans are so hell-bent on these restrictive laws when there is no evidence of in-person voter fraud, but we all know why. Sessions does not want to stop black people from voting; he just wants to make it more difficult …


Hate crimes: Everyone wonders why Trump has been suspiciously silent about the uptick in hate crimes since his election. Even stranger, the Justice Department hasn’t announced a major investigation. It is reminiscent of the Jim Crow era, when the quiet terrorism of hate kept black people in their place. But it is 2017; why hasn’t Jeff Sessions said anything?

Because Jeff Sessions doesn’t believe in hate crimes.

The man in charge of protecting people from violence because of their race, gender, religion or sexual orientation opposes the Hate Crime Prevention Act, named after James Byrd Jr., the black man who was dragged to death, and Matthew Shepard, who was beaten by an anti-gay group and left to die.

Perhaps it is because of the “alt-right” contingent that hoisted his boss into the White House, or maybe it is because Sessions himself once said that the only thing he didn’t like about the Ku Klux Klan was Klan members’ marijuana use.

Speaking of pot …

The drug war: Jeff Sessions hates marijuana and vows to continue America’s war on drugs. “How is this racist,” you ask?

Because even though Caucasians use marijuana and other drugs more than blacks, blacks are arrested up to 10 times more for marijuana possession.

Because whites are more likely to deal drugs, but blacks are more likely to be arrested for dealing drugs.

Because African Americans are 12 percent of the population of drug users, but 59 percent of the people incarcerated for drug offenses.

Plus, after Barack Obama pardoned and commuted sentences for scores of nonviolent drug prisoners—more than any other president—and announced that the federal government would no longer use private prisons, Jeff Sessions reversed course back to for-profit penitentiaries. How do you think he’s going to fill those prisons? Michelle Alexander called America’s mass-incarceration complex “the new Jim Crow.” Maybe Jeff Sessions is not a racist.

Maybe he’s just a visionary.

This is not even close to an all-inclusive list, but we have neither the bandwidth nor the energy to catalog Sessions’ long history of prejudice.

If you ever doubt the resilience of the American psyche, you don’t have to recall the pioneer spirit of the 1800s or go back to the time of the Pilgrims in buckled hats. All you have to do is look at how this country has so diligently, over the entire span of its existence, continually found a way to kick black people in the teeth.

If our mouths were not so bloody, we might be able to sit back and admire this nation’s unfailing dedication to this one precept. Just when we thought we might get past it—immediately after the first black man to ever lead this country exited the stage—the indomitable American spirit managed to resurrect and reanimate the corpse of Jim Crow.

But the most infuriatingly insulting part is this:

After black America screamed for years about this particular ghost in the attic, they still ignored us. Coretta Scott King literally warned the Senate from her grave, and its response was to tell her to shut up. That America simply shrugged and moved on after selecting a man with 50 years of unquestionable racism to uphold and enforce its Constitution is indicative of this country’s attitude toward black people.

But one phone call to Russia, and all of a sudden they want to rethink the whole attorney general thing.

Bravo, America.


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