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Paul A Duginski
Paul A Duginski
Paul Duginski is a political cartoonist and veteran newspaper staff artist. He enjoys reading history, literature and going bodyboarding whenever he has time.
 

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Posted in Politics / Elections / National

Incarceration Nation

May 15, 2017 1:53 pm
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Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, the 84th Attorney General of the United States, was considered among the most right-wing members of the U.S. Senate when he represented Alabama in that body from 1997 until being chosen to be part of the Trump Administration.

Sessions was one of Trump’s earliest major supporters — the first sitting senator to endorse him in late February 2016. Doubtless, Trump wanted to reward Sessions with a plum assignment and give him a platform where he can do the maximum damage in the administration’s effort to “Make America Great Again.”

The kind of “greatness” Trump and Sessions have in mind probably wouldn’t be the kind most Americans want.

On Friday, Sessions ordered federal prosecutors to roll back the “Smart on Crime” initiatives that Atty. Gen. Eric Holder initiated to reduce mass incarceration in the U.S. by avoiding mandatory sentencing. In other words, Sessions wants to return to a “dumb on crime” policy and the fruitless War on Drugs.

Those tired old policies have spectacularly failed to end drug use in America. Richard Nixon declared war on drugs in 1971, and since then we’ve squandered more than $1 trillion. We also have spent billions of dollars to incarcerate more people than any other country on the planet. According to one report, our carceral state costs American taxpayers $60 billion annually. Many of those locked up unnecessarily are non-violent offenders, and there are shamefully unjust racial disparities.

Maybe Sessions likes the fact that a disproportionate number of minority offenders are locked up. When Republican politicians since the days of Nixon talk about “law and order,” they’re sounding a familiar dog whistle.

An African American Assistant Atty. Gen., Thomas Figures, testified before a Congressional committee that Sessions had called him “boy,” and that Sessions had said that he thought the Ku Klux Klan was “okay until I found out they smoked pot.”

That was before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was conducting hearings on President Reagan’s nomination of Sessions to be a U.S. District Court judge in 1986. He was the U.S. Atty. for the Southern District of Alabama. His nomination for U.S. District Judge was opposed by the NAACP, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and the People for the American Way.

In those same Congressional hearings, four Justice Department attorneys who had worked with Sessions testified that he had made racially offensive remarks. One of them, J. Gerald Herbert, testified that Sessions had called the NAACP and the ACLU “un-American” and “Communist inspired,” and that they tried to force civil rights “down the throats of people.” According to Herbert, Sessions once called a white civil rights attorney “a disgrace to his race.”

Sessions was born in Selma, Ala., in 1946. He was named after his father and grandfather, both of whom were named after Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States of America. His middle name comes from the Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, the “Hero of Fort Sumter,” and the first general officer in the Confederate States Army. Bombardment of the U.S. Army’s Fort Sumter in the harbor at Charleston, S.C., in 1861 by rebel forces launched the Civil War.

Sen. Edward Kennedy once called Sessions, “A throw-back to a shameful era,” which is hard to dispute when the guy is named after political and military heroes of the Confederacy and says the outlandish things that he does. He has made a litany of racist remarks over the years, which came back to haunt him in the hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Kennedy called him a “disgrace,” and said it was “inconceivable … that a person of this attitude is qualified to be a U.S. attorney, let alone a United States federal judge.”

From his positions on a variety of issues, it’s clear that little has changed with Sessions. He is strongly opposed to immigration reform and same-sex marriage. So when Sessions joins with Trump in saying they want to “Make America Great Again,” there’s a wink and a nudge. Law and order to the Trump base means locking up “those people.”

Sessions would probably like to fly the stars and bars once again, with a return to Jim Crow. According to a report by Tuskegee University, 2,911 African Americans were lynched during the Jim Crow years of 1890-1965. That’s an average of 39 people per year. In 2016, 266 black people were shot by the cops — and as the ubiquity of smart phone cameras has proven — many of those are entirely unjustified or were outright street executions.

Now we need a technology that would show the unbelieving that so many of those people of color who are incarcerated would not be locked up if they were white. Justice should mean just that. We need to rid this country of unfair or stupid one-size-fits-all mandatory sentencing. Trump and Sessions are doing everything they can to turn back the clock and maintain hideous racial disparities and mass incarceration.

Except for a small base of angry, aging white voters, America has moved on and has no stomach for returning to those thrilling days of yesteryear that still haunt our history and our consciences.

 
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