U.S. Attorney General William Barr. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
By Wayne Dawkins
Special to the AFRO
Some Black law professors expressed alarm that U.S. Attorney William Barr late last week said he considered prosecuting Black Lives Matter (BLM) members for protesting police lethal force and misconduct.
“It is unprecedented for the nation’s top enforcer of the law to suggest threatening BLM, a peaceful protest movement, with sedition charges when there’s no evidence of them using others to promote or incite others to violence, or engage in violent conduct,”said LaMonte Summers, lecturer, media law/ethics, Merrill College, University of Maryland, College Park.
“Barr is abusing his power as attorney general in that he is misrepresenting the Insurrection Clause of the Constitution in order to oppress the rights of protestors,” said Gloria Browne-Marshall, professor of Constitutional Law at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. The Insurrection Clause, she explained, relates to the post-Colonial America Shays’ Rebellion.
Brown-Marshall continued, “Article 1, Section 8 says Congress has the power to call the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrection, and repel invasions. That is the power of Congress, not the executive branch.
“Barr is abusing and misrepresenting his power and office.”
Summers and Browne-Marshall responded to Barr’s remarks at Hillsdale College in Michigan Sept. 16. The attorney general has called some demonstrators, Black, White, and other, who protest police misconduct related to the George Floyd and Breonna Taylor deaths “domestic terrorists” who should be prosecuted.
Summers said, “Such unwarranted and reckless statements by the AG indicates that he is not only biased against BLM, but that he exhibits a clearly stated animus against them in an attempt to use the legal system to at a minimum tarnish the reputation of a peaceful and effective protest movement, and at worse destroy BLM as an effective, modern Civil Rights Movement.”
Said Browne-Marshall, “What he said was not only tone deaf. William Barr’s comments using the deaths of human beings murdered by police is beyond callous and cruel. It is ignorant and wrong.”
Five days after Barr’s statements at Hillsdale disturbed some legal experts, the attorney general doubled down on threats. Barr’s Department of Justice declared New York City, Portland and Seattle “anarchist jurisdictions,” and the Trump administration considered withholding federal funds from these Democratic-led major municipalities.
Summers’ response: “Barr’s statements are reminders of J. Edgar Hoover’s similar public pronouncements and actions against past civil rights leaders and organizations, but his rhetoric is worse because of his position as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer and due to its potential impact on the upcoming presidential election in what is expected to be a close race.”
Said Browne-Marshall, “Also, in a terrifying power grab, William Barr seeks to pass legislation that would suspend habeas corpus and crush protests against his unconstitutional use of force with the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798.”
The writer is a professor of professional practice at Morgan State University School of Global Journalism and Communication.