Black activists have united this week, following the confirmation and swearing in of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions — a man they see as a fundamental threat to communities of color and to historic civil rights protections.
In statements released Wednesday and Thursday, the Movement for Black Lives, the NAACP and the National Urban League, among other groups, called confirmation of the longtime Republican senator from Alabama “terrifying,” “a scandal” and “a grave mistake.”
The groups are pledging to remain vigilant against threats to civil rights, voting rights and criminal justice reforms, by applying pressure to the elected officials charged with oversight of the U.S. Department of Justice and resistance through protest.
“The appointment of Jefferson Sessions is a terrifying affirmation of what many of us already knew, that the federal government, and the Department of Justice specifically, will be used as weapons against our communities under this administration,” read a statement from the Movement for Black Lives, a collective of over 50 black activists groups that make up the Black Lives Matter movement.
“From the threat to defund the [DOJ] Civil Rights Division, to the appointment of an attorney general whose racism has been called out by his colleagues, it is clear the federal government will do nothing to end the state-sanctioned killing of our people by police, the theft of our votes, the continued criminalization of our children or the persecution of LGBTQ people,” the movement’s statement read.
Sessions, who took his oath in the Oval Office of the White House on Thursday, faced a bitterly contentious and partisan battle to become the nation’s chief law enforcement official. Senate Democrats almost universally opposed Sessions’ confirmation, which he won in a 52-47 vote on Wednesday.
In their opposition to Sessions, progressives cited the Alabama senator’s record of opposing federal civil rights legislation, denouncing criminal justice reforms and Black Lives Matter protests as an attack on police officers and attacking black voter registration efforts in the south. Sessions’ failed to win confirmation to a federal judgeship in the 1980s, when he was dogged by allegation of racial insensitivity during his time as a federal prosecutor in Alabama.
During his confirmation hearings, Sessions vehemently denied the allegations that he harbors animus toward blacks and immigrants or that he ever supported the Ku Klux Klan.
"Sessions is a career racist who has opposed the Voting Rights Act, taken extreme views on immigration and free speech, and referred to a black federal prosecutor as ‘boy,’” Rashad Robinson, executive director of the racial justice group, Color of Change, said in a statement.
“In voting to confirm him, each one of these Senators is rubber stamping this White House’s racist, right wing agenda to steal our rights, our freedoms and our country,” Robinson added. “They have voted to sell off the legacy of the civil rights movement.”
Leaders of the NAACP pledged to turn the pressure up on officials over bread and butter issues for community of color. “Rather than hang our heads in despair, the NAACP will continue to hold the new [attorney general] and the Department of Justice accountable for enforcing protections against voter suppression, the use of consent decrees as a means of reining in racism within police departments, protection of women's rights and the humane treatment for immigrant communities and sanctuary cities,” their statement read.
Following Sessions’ swearing in ceremony Thursday, President Donald Trump signed three executive orders he said were aimed at restoring safety in the United States. One of the orders Trump called for the creation of “new crimes” to reduce violence against law enforcement officers.
“It’s a shame what’s been happening to the really great law enforcement officers,” Trump said during the swearing in ceremony. It should be noted that the number of officers who are feloniously killed in the line of duty has trended downward over several decades.
That executive order, in particular, has caused alarm among BLM activists whose tactics have been maligned by conservatives as a threat to policing and “law and order” in the U.S.
"Our job is not to make life more comfortable for the rioter, the looter or the violent disrupter,” the Trump White House states on its website.
Since 2014, when the movement took off as a response to a spate of police killings of black men and women, many activists worried how law enforcement might be used to foil or infiltrate their ranks. Some groups sought transparency around police surveillance of Black Lives Matter demonstrations, in the wake of the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City.
“Now, at a time when the FBI has sweeping surveillance powers, we must buckle down and prepare for increased criminalization while trying to protect the most vulnerable among us, especially our Muslim and immigrant communities being targeted by Trump’s administration,” the Movement for Black Lives’ statement read.
Their statement continued: “We will continue doing what we’ve always done; we will resist, fight and build our communities with dignity and a vision for the future that includes thriving communities for our people, and freedom from systemic racism and oppression for all people.”