Historic Justice Department Appointment A Sign of Hope for Black America
(TriceEdneyWire.com) – In recent years, many people of different races and ethnicities have fought against the setbacks of hard-earned racial progress. From health disparities exposed in the COVID-19 pandemic to voting rights, criminal justice, fair housing, and more, much of black America has suffered in a way that is reminiscent of Jim Crow and its distinct status, but never equal.
But since a new administration began in January, there have been a series of encouraging signs that regressive and nefarious practices will be challenged in the name of justice. On May 25, the US Senate confirmed Kristen Clarke as Deputy Attorney General for Civil Rights at the Department of Justice. Never before has a black woman led this division that guides the federal government’s commitment to civil rights for all.
Appointed by President Joe Biden on Jan. 7, his remarks underscored both its importance and its timeliness.
“The Civil Rights Division is the moral center of the Department of Justice. And the core of that fundamental American ideal that we are all created equal and deserve to be treated equally, ”President Biden said. “I am honored that you have accepted the call to return to fulfill the promise for all Americans.
Soon after, a tsunami of support for Clarke’s confirmation revealed nationwide and diverse support for her service. The list of supporters included unions, environmental activists, law enforcement officials, as well as legal colleagues and civil rights leaders.
Perhaps one of the oldest and most poignant expressions is that of the son of the first associate black judge of the United States Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall. Written on behalf of his family, the February 9 letter to leaders of the United States Senate established a key historical connection.
“Ms. Clarke is a pioneering lawyer, like my father, who built her career advancing civil rights and equal justice before the law, and breaking down barriers through her leadership for people of color while making our nation better for all, ”wrote Marshall.
His letter also shared a telling example of Clarke’s groundbreaking work in the area of civil rights.
Ms. Clarke successfully used the law as a vehicle to advance equality, as my father did. For example, she successfully represented Taylor Dumpson, who was the target of a hate crime after her election as the first female president of the American University Black Student Body.
Likewise, the country’s oldest and largest civil rights organization, the NAACP, also advised the Senate leadership ahead of the scheduled confirmation hearing of its support for Clarke.
On April 12, Derrick Johnson, its chairman / CEO wrote: “The NAACP believes Ms Clarke is uniquely positioned to oversee the Civil Rights Division at a time when people of color have suffered devastating damage at the hands of the forces of order. She is the leader we need to ensure local police services comply with civil rights laws and advance public safety by maintaining positive relationships with the communities they serve. Ms. Clarke has prosecuted cases of police misconduct and has worked to make the criminal justice system fairer for people of color.
“As chair of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, Ms. Clarke has been an important partner in fighting predatory lending and in the fight for fair housing, including campaigns to end the trap. payday loan debt and efforts to protect important fair housing / lending rules, ”said Nikitra Bailey, executive vice president of the Center for Responsible Lending. “Ms. Clarke’s experience as a lawyer in the Department of Justice and as the executive director of a major civil rights organization not only qualifies her, but makes her the best candidate for this position. urgent.
The vote took place mid-afternoon Tuesday was 51-48 depending on party lines. Senator Susan Collins of Maine was the only Republican to vote for her confirmation. Black women’s and civil rights-led organizations, including People for the American Way, had fought vehemently for her confirmation alongside Vanita Gupta’s April 21 confirmation as deputy attorney general. Gupta is American Indian.
“These women are ready to make a difference, the change we voted for,” People for the American Way president Ben Jealous wrote in a column. “They represent the type of inclusive multiracial, multiethnic society that we are building together and the commitment of the Biden-Harris administration to building one of the most diverse governance teams in our country’s history.”
The Senate vote comes amid an escalation in hate crimes, visible murders of blacks by police and attacks on voting rights by state legislatures across the country.
“Kristen is very experienced in dealing with these issues and how to overcome them,” said Dr. Mary Frances Berry, professor of American social thought, history and African studies at the University of Pennsylvania. “With legislation passed in states to implement more voter suppression, she will be at the forefront of finding ways to try to prevent this from happening.”
Ms Clarke’s legal career takes on even more significance when you consider that this Jamaican immigrant daughter grew up in public housing in Brooklyn, New York. Although financial resources were limited, the family’s teachings about discipline and hard work were not. Public schools, her college education took her to the prestigious Ivy League.
In 1997, she received her bachelor’s degree from Harvard University. Three years later, in 2000, Clarke completed her Juris Doctor at Columbia University.
Her first job as a new lawyer was as a federal prosecutor in the Department of Justice, working on voting rights, hate crimes and human trafficking cases. In 2006, she joined the NAACP Legal Defense Fund until New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman appointed her director of the state’s Civil Rights Office. In this state role, Clarke has led enforcement actions spanning criminal justice, voting rights, and fair lending. discrimination in housing, rights of persons with disabilities, access to reproduction and LGBTQ rights.
As recognition of her legal acumen grew, the number of accolades she received increased: the 2010 Paul Robeson Distinguished Alumni Award from Columbia Law School; 2011 Top 40 Under 40 of the National Bar Association; the 2012 Best Brief Award for the Supreme Court term in 2012 awarded by the National Association of Attorneys General; and 2015 Rising Stars of the New York Law Journal.
A few months later, the August 2016 edition of Journal of the American Bar Association presented a question and answer interview with Clarke. In part, she reflected on her childhood and how it influenced her career aspirations.
“I have experienced what it is to be disadvantaged, and I have also experienced very privileged environments. I feel a deep sense of responsibility to use the opportunities given to me to help those less fortunate. We live in a nation divided on the basis of race and class. I have a personal idea of what life is like on both sides of this divide, and I want to understand how we can bridge some of those gaps and level the playing field. ”
During the April 14 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on her appointment, Clarke recalled her legal career path and the principles that have guided her work.
“I started my legal career traveling across the country in communities like Tensas Parish, Louisiana and Clarksdale, Mississippi,” Clarke said. “I learned to be a lawyer for a lawyer, to focus on the rule of law and to let the facts lead where they can.
“When I left the Department of Justice, my guide was the words of the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall: ‘Where you see evil, inequality or injustice, speak in, because it is your country ”. It’s your democracy. Do it. Protect it. Pass it on. ‘ “This is exactly what I have tried to do at every stage of my career.
Clarke will now return to the Justice Department as the agency reiterates its goal of serving the whole country fairly. Since the start of this year, a series of actions reflect the agency’s renewed commitment to civil rights. Here are some examples:
- In February and following an FBI investigation, a Michigan man was charged with hate crimes after confronting black teens with racist slurs and guns for their use of a public beach.
- In March, two former Louisiana correctional officers were convicted for their role in covering up the death of a prisoner in 2014 at the state’s St. Bernard Parish, following a failure to provide medical treatment during his incarceration.
- In April, the DOJ and the city of West Monroe, Louisiana reached a consent agreement following a lawsuit alleging a violation of voting rights law. Although almost a third of the city is black, the general election of city aldermen resulted in all local officials being white. With the consent decree, the method of selecting aldermen will change to a combination of representatives from a single district and others elected in general.
- On May 7, the Department of Justice issued a three-count indictment against four Minneapolis police officers on federal civil rights charges in the death of George Floyd. Additionally, former convicted officer Derek Chauvin faces an additional indictment of two counts for his actions in 2017 against a 14-year-old. The indictment accuses Chauvin of keeping his knee on the youth’s neck and upper back, as well as of using a flashlight as a weapon.
In addition, the DOJ is currently investigating police practices in Louisville and Minneapolis. Readers may recall that Breonna Taylor was killed in her Louisville home during an overnight police entry without a warrant for a strike.
“Our nation is a healthier place when we respect the rights of all communities,” Clarke said during her confirmation hearing. “In all the roles I have held, I have worked with and for people from all walks of life. I have listened carefully to all sides of the debate, regardless of their political affiliation. There is no substitute for listening and learning in this job, and I promise you that I will bring that to the role.
(Charlene Crowell is a senior member of the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be contacted at