Days after clinching the U.S. presidency in November, Donald Trump appointed Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions as his pick for Attorney General of the U.S. Department of Justice. From stating he was once “okay with the Ku Klux Klan” until he learned they smoked marijuana, to prosecuting Black activists in the decades following the fall of Jim Crow for registering people to vote, Sessions’ past, like Trump’s, is filled with controversial, biased and racially-charged rhetoric and action.
Civil rights groups around the country have begun mobilizing against his confirmation and urging senators to reject him. I spoke with longtime filmmaker and activist dream hampton about her efforts, in tandem with the advocacy group Drug Policy Alliance, to block Sessions’ confirmation as U.S. Attorney General.
BYP: What specifically about Jeff Sessions, in comparison with Trump’s other picks, made you say ‘enough is enough,’ I need to do what I can to stop this guy?
hampton: Trump’s cabinet are the Deatheaters, and he would be Wormwood. In a whole target of moving targets, because I’m from Michigan, and Betsy DeVos–who is a millionaire because her brother founded Blackwater–ruined Detroit schools, this is the challenge. It’s going to be about where we put our energy because there are so many places to do so. I’ve cared about police terror and racial violence forever, and with Jeff Sessions as the top cop, I feel it just restores policing to its natural place and habitat. We know that policing in this country began as slave patrols, and it’s no hyperbole to say that Jeff Sessions is a return to that type of thinking at mentality.
He has quite thinly tried to walk back some of his most egregious and white supremacist statements, whether they be that the NAACP is [un-American]…or saying that the KKK was okay until he found out they smoke pot. Drug Policy Alliance was a really natural organizing home given some of the work they’ve done to stop his nomination.
On the left, and I don’t really want to say ‘left’ because when you’re Black it’s not about being left or right–it’s about being Black, we didn’t think Eric Holder did enough. But to white people, Obama was Huey Newton and Eric Holder was Eldridge Cleaver. And they want to walk back the bit of work they did. These white supremacists, that whole wing of the Republican Party…they have long memories. This is their revenge.
BYP: Is there one particular aspect, maybe immigration or criminal justice, that you’re most concerned about under a Sessions DOJ?
hampton: I’m concerned with investments into local police departments. When you talk about investing more money into police, local organizations like BYP100 are talking about defunding the police. Like, a very clear call. This is a total turnaround. I believe Trump when he says he wants to pour more money into police. I mean, we had army veterans on Twitter during Ferguson when they pulled out those tanks and Kevlar vests saying, “yo we didn’t have this equipment in Iraq!” Actual army cats saying that we don’t see this type of funding in Iraq, so that began a conversation regarding how Homeland Security money is ending up in these local police departments. So what Trump is trying to do through Sessions is making sure that local police have auxiliary funds so that they can not only work with ICE, but be deputized by ICE to go and round up families and break them apart.
So if you want to talk about the ramping up of police violence, that’s what we’re going to get under Jeff Sessions.
BYP: In your opinion, how will Sessions and the Trump Administration respond to protestors who are organizing in the Movement for Black Lives?
hampton: It’s going to be more repressive. They’re going to be penalizing protest. When you are fined $1000 or $1500, the types of charges Ferguson protestors were getting, that has a real practical effect on people’s lives. When they can’t pay, they get bench warrants, then the people who were protesting end up being in the criminal justice system if they weren’t already.
I think in general though, this question of how we prepare and how we respond is going to be essential, and I look to the leadership of those who are organizing. I look at Jackson, MS and the organizing going on over there, largely led by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, when my mentor Chokwe Lumumba was running for mayor as an exemplary alternative. I wonder if we need to be rethinking our response to this. We need to re-imagine our responses to this very kind of old and new repression. Some ways we can find in history, and some of them will be within the purview of the future and the responsibility of futurists.
BYP: Is there anything you think the Obama Administration could have done to mitigate the possible effects of what will almost certainly be a rollback of progress and reforms under a Sessions DOJ?
hampton: You know, these pardons have been remarkable, they really have. Just like Trump has been clear about who he is, even as they go back and forth, we have wanted to project on Obama a more radical or racially-conscientious person than he is or has ever purported to be. Nothing about his bio tells us that he was ever going to be the person we wanted him to be–he or his wife. That’s the other thing, that Michelle Obama was supposedly down and that her thing wasn’t also respectability and the same types of family constructs.
On the other hand, we as Black folks who have to wear masks and have a double consciousness as Dubois describes, we know that there was very little he could do. It’s like, they’re calling you a Muslim terrorist–what are you going to do, go and be ‘down’ with the Muslims? He absolutely hosted Eid every White House, but those are the small cultural gestures he has made throughout his presidency without any real action. I would say the same thing about Latinos, who he let down even more in terms of ramping up, rather than stopping, the deportations. It just feels like a dance.
We know that his role at the Harvard Law Review was conciliatory. He was the type of person who walked the middle ground and heard both sides. And these are folks who have declared war on you. So I don’t know if these were the 8 years for you to practice your Buddhism.
He has commuted the sentences of more than 1100 folks and [brought] home a lot of the people who were victims of the drug war. That’s really important to me because it was my era, my city, Detroit. So he gets a gold star for that. But in every other aspect, he’s been a huge disappointment.
BYP: I know you’ve been following Sessions’ hearing. Is there anything thus far that has made you say, “wow”?
hampton: Yeah, Democrats ain’t shit.
The fact that Bernie Sanders led his comments on Sessions by talking about how long they’ve known him, I think that it’s catastrophic to the hope that these mothafuckas might grow a spine, and do to Trump and Sessions at least what they did to Loretta Lynch when Obama nominated her.
I mean, they really denied him the right to govern. They denied that man the right to govern. Basically in his last two years, he pushed through executive orders. Mitch McConnell’s pledge that they were going to deny him the right to govern? Oh they made good on that. I don’t see these bitch ass democrats articulating even an eighth of that towards someone who truly should be denied on every level. Especially if you care about the meddling of Russia, gerrymandering, uncounted votes, the fact that this is the first [presidential] election since the Voting Rights Act was passed in the 60s where it’s been dismantled…
And once again, who’s out here as the only ones being brave? Black women. It’s like a rerun of that scene from “Fahrenheit 911” when Maxine Waters and Barbara Lee were the only ones speaking out against the Iraq War.
And I don’t think [the Democratic Party] deserves our labor. We need to push against that and start thinking of how we’re going to create a whole new world. I don’t know about you, but while we have to have people who are dedicated towards responding to some of these things in the moment, we have invest a lot more time into alternative ways of imagining and being on this planet, because this ain’t it.
Watch hampton’s video to #StopSessions below: