United States Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke. (Courtesy photo)

By Wayne Dawkins

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights compiled an exhaustive list that reported the U.S. Justice Department during the President Trump years was openly hostile toward civil rights enforcement, specifically affecting people of color. That list singled out indifference or mindful neglect of voting rights protection, police accountability and consumer protection. 

Trump’s initial attorney general choice, U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama was so suspect, U.S. Sen Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, was censured by the then-GOP-majority senate for referencing Coretta Scott King’s criticism of Sessions. 

The 45th president soon dumped Sessions. Successor William Barr, a GOP establishment type, shocked observers like the New Yorker’s David Rohde, who last year called the replacement a Trump enabler.

Meanwhile, copious media reports from 2017 to last January suggested DOJ too often was perceived as Trump’s personal counsel instead of the people’s legal team 

The night of Sept. 28, the replacements, President Biden appointees to the DOJ, assured 40 mostly Washington journalists during a Zoom/Facebook Live session that a new day was here; civil rights enforcement once again will be rigorous within the Justice Department.

Anthony Coley, head of public affairs, praised Attorney General Merrick Garland for nominating 25 U.S. attorneys, 48% of whom were African American, including 25% of that cohort Black women.

Ron Davis introduced himself as the new director of the U.S. Marshalls, on the job for a mere 24 hours. With 30 years in law enforcement, including police chief in Oakland, California, Davis said he looked forward to supervising COPS – Community Oriented Policing Services.

Ken Polite Jr., who said he was the second Black person to lead the criminal division, Polite said he was from a government service family, also worked as criminal defense attorney in New York, Philadelphia and hometown New Orleans.

Vanita Gupta said this was her second tour at DOJ. The associate attorney general and third highest-ranking official at the department said it had just embarked on the first comprehensive review in 40 years of Civil Rights Act Title VI enforcement, so that public funds would not unwittingly finance racial discrimination. About $4.5 billion of Title VI funds were dispensed in Fiscal Year 2021, which ends Sept. 30, and $7 billion is to be dispensed in FY 2022. 

Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general in the civil rights division, proclaimed she was the daughter of Jamaican immigrants. Her focus included combatting redlining, such as a settlement with Houston-based Cadence Bank, and voting rights lawsuits  that confront tactics that make voting by people of color unevenly inconvenient, or difficult as in why the feds legally challenged Georgia SB 202.

Amy Solomon, acting assistant attorney general in the DOJ office of justice, said she curated victims’ services and youth programs, plus a $3 billion new opportunity, DuBois research grants aimed to study and reform criminal justice.

If the DOJ of the Trump years was a foul stench in the noses of civil rights advocates, the Biden-stocked DOJ could smell like fresh air. However, the new recruits have their work cut out for them: Bold faced-lies by Trump and his sycophants that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him emboldened a handful of states to pass election laws intended to disenfranchise voters of color in urban centers. 

Texas passed an anti-abortion law that invalidates a 50-year-old U.S. Supreme Count decision, which is why DOJ is now suing, and the nation’s greatest terrorist threat is not international Islamic extremists, but domestic White nationalists, based on FBI data. 

Members of the new DOJ say it’s up for the challenges. Time will tell.

The writer is a professor of professional practice at Morgan State University School of Global Journalism and Communication.

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