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March 4, 2017

EPI Director Speaks at Interfaith Press Conference about Attorney General Sessions

The Rev. Leslie Copeland Tune, Director of the Ecumenical Poverty Initiative of the Disciples Center for Public Witness, spoke at an interfaith press conference organized by Faith in Public Life. The focus of the event was faith-based concern about Jeff Sessions continuing to serve as Attorney General. 

Statement Concerning Attorney General Jeff Sessions:

Good morning. My name is Rev. Dr. Leslie Copeland Tune and I am the director of the Ecumenical Poverty Initiative. We are here today with deep and overwhelming concerns about what is happening here behind us at the Department of Justice. For Christians, we understand that God is a God of justice and calls us to be just and righteous – to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God. Yet, it seems that justice is not the main concern of this Justice Department under the leadership of Attorney General Jeff Sessions!

Today I am remembering the words quoted by my son in an oratorical contest he recently participated in of the great statesman, orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, “Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”

His words ring all the more true on this day, even though Frederick Douglass is not himself here with us today. [PAUSE]

Prior to the confirmation hearings for the Attorney General, we issued a joint statement with the National Council of Churches, Conference of National Black Churches and Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference that in part expressed our serious concerns and reservations about Jeff Sessions’ nomination. Sessions’ history of racial bigotry and hostility towards civil rights really disqualified him at the outset from holding this critical position as the top law enforcement officer in our nation. If you will recall a Republican-led Senate Judiciary committee found him to be too racist in 1986 to be confirmed as a federal judge. Yet here we are today with our worst fears being realized. And, our concerns have only deepened in the 3 weeks since he was sworn into this position.

While AG Sessions has strongly denied his racist past and his bias against civil rights and minority communities, the very rights he should be defending as Attorney General, his record in the past 21 days demonstrates that actions always speak louder than words. In just 21 days, he has:

- Reinstated the use of private prisons, which have been proven to be less safe and less effective than government-run prisons. His rationale is that crime will increase when we know that it has been declining in our country. He claims that the use of private prisons will give us the ability to be prepared for the future but I cannot help but wonder who are these prisons for? The facts tell us – the real ones – that Black and Brown and poor people will disproportionately fill those prisons.

- In just 21 days, Attorney General Sessions has retreated on civil rights by withdrawing the Justice Department’s opposition to the Texas voter ID law, one of the most severe laws of its kind in the country which has already been struck down in the courts and determined to have discriminatory effects.

- In just 21 days, Attorney General Sessions has pulled back on the work of the Obama Administration’s Justice Department to try to end the murder of unarmed African Americans by police officers by holding them accountable and suing those police departments for violating the civil rights of minorities. According to Mr. Sessions, holding police departments accountable is making them less effective. I suppose that depends on what you believe makes them effective in the first place. We certainly do not believe profiling, unnecessarily harassing, targeting or shooting unarmed African American men and women makes police departments effective.

We know that the private prisons, voter suppression tactics unchecked and unmonitored police brutality, disproportionately affect people of color, the poor and vulnerable people. That is not okay.

The bottom line here is that Mr. Sessions’ history of racial bias is rearing its ugly head in unjust policies at the Justice Department. He has simply masked his bigotry with smoke and mirrors and buzz words like safety and effectiveness to disarm opponents and ultimately disenfranchise minorities and poor people. While the issues about what happened during the campaign are alarming, equally disturbing is what Mr. Sessions has accomplished in just 21 days to undermine justice and righteousness in our land. This is not okay!

As a Christian, I can’t help but think about the scripture that teaches us that we are to avoid even the appearance of evil. We are called to lift up truth and righteousness. That is why we urge Congress to appoint a bipartisan panel to investigate all of the allegations and improprieties that may have occurred. That is why we must stay focused on real facts and truth and hold the Attorney General accountable not only for what he says but what he has already done as the nation’s top law enforcement official. Too much is at stake and we MUST keep justice in the Justice Department.

Thank you!

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