NAACP Leaders Arrested During Sit-In at Jeff Sessions’ Office
The president of the nation’s most prominent civil rights group was one of six activists arrested during a Tuesday sit-in at the Mobile, Alabama office of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), President-elect Donald Trump’s controversial attorney general pick.
The New York Times reports around two dozen demonstrators, including leaders from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), occupied Sessions’ office around 11 am Tuesday in order to demand the four-term senator withdraw his name from consideration for attorney general. The protesters said Sessions, a former US attorney who was once deemed too racist to serve as a federal judge, is the wrong choice to safeguard the civil rights of all Americans.
“If we understand depth of commitment to be a requirement for the job of attorney general, then he is not qualified for the job, because he has demonstrated no depth of commitment when it comes to civil rights,” NAACP National President Cornell William Brooks explained to the Times.
The former Alabama attorney general and United States Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama has sparked widespread outrage and accusations of racism for opposing the Voting Rights Act — although he acknowledged his state’s shameful history of black voter suppression when signing its renewal in 2006, his support for anti-immigrant legislation, his unsuccessful (critics say wrongful) prosecution of black civil rights leaders for voter fraud and his history of racist comments.
Sessions reportedly said he thought the Ku Klux Klan was “OK until I found out they smoked pot” and was repeatedly accused of calling black attorneys and staffers racial slurs. He called a white attorney who defended blacks in civil rights cases “a disgrace to his race.” He also called the NAACP and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) “un-American and communist-inspired.”
“We have an attorney general nominee who does not acknowledge the reality of voter suppression while mouthing faith in the myth of voter fraud,” Brooks told the Associated Press by phone during the sit-in.
The protest ended shortly after 6:30 pm after demonstrators refused a dispersal order from the building’s management. “We are about to be arrested,” Brooks announced. “We are doing this as an act of civil disobedience standing in the tradition of Rosa Parks and members of the NAACP community,” he added, referring to the pioneering black woman, who was one of the first to challenge racial segregation on Southern buses. Six of the activists were subsequently arrested. Some knelt in prayer before police officers.
Sessions and his staffers have dismissed accusations of racism as unfounded. “Many African-American leaders who’ve known him for decades attest to this and have welcomed his nomination to be the next Attorney General,” a statement from Sessions spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores told the AP. “These false portrayals of Senator Sessions will fail as tired, recycled, hyperbolic charges that have been thoroughly rebuked and discredited.”
Others point to Sessions’ work toward reducing disparities in drug sentencing, school desegregation and death penalty prosecution of a KKK murderer as proof that racism allegations against Sessions are untrue. However, a group of former federal civil rights attorneys who worked on cases for which Sessions takes credit claim he “barely touched them.”
“Sessions has not worked to protect civil rights. He worked against civil rights at every turn,” the attorneys wrote in a Washington Post editorial. “Sessions knows that his real record on race and civil rights is harmful to his chances for confirmation. So he has made up a fake one.”
The Mobile sit-in came as more than 1,200 professors at law schools around the nation petitioned Congress urging lawmakers to reject Sessions’ nomination. “Nothing in Senator Sessions’ public life since 1986 has convinced us that he is a different man than the 39-year-old attorney who was deemed too racially insensitive to be a federal district court judge,” the letter, which mentioned Sessions’ “misguided prosecution” of civil rights activists, “consistent promotion of the myth of voter-impersonation fraud,” his “robust support for regressive drug policies that have fueled mass incarceration,” his history of climate change denial and “repeated opposition to legislative efforts to promote the rights of women and members of the LGBTQ community” as other serious concerns.