Jeff Sessions coming to Memphis to gin up support for his tough-on-crime directive was no accident. The majority of the residents of Memphis are black. I am one of them.
That said, what better city is there for a racist white man from Alabama, to give a speech intended to Stoke the fears of the color aroused? Answer: A city like Memphis that has elected its first white mayor – who happens to be a Republican – for the very first time in many decades. Yes, that happened. And yes, I’m still mad about it.
If you think I’m off-base here, see St. Louis, Missouri. St. Louis currently has the highest murder rate in the nation. Yes, contrary to popular belief, Chicago doesn’t have that dubious distinction. I know it’s hard to believe. But, in spite of Chicago residents accidentally getting in the way of bullets, it isn’t the murder capital. Again, St. Louis has the highest murder rate.
Nonetheless, Sessions didn’t choose St. Louis – instead, he chose Memphis.
Anywhere else would be bad for optics.
After all, what better city is there to announce the ramping up of the war on blackness, than the city where Martin Luther King Jr. was killed? Yes, a Democratic Party stronghold. A city where people can say, “See, the Democrats haven’t done anything for you black people.” Therefore, enter the white savior. Yes, it’s like the sequel to the movie The Blindside. A movie which ironically, was set in Memphis. But this time, with a splash of systemic racism.
What’s interesting is that Tennessee ranks number two in the country when it comes to opioid addiction. Yet, the city of Memphis has fewer overdose deaths than Nashville, Knoxville, and Chatanooga. Unlike Memphis, those cities are predominantly white.
Memphis saw a spike in murders last year. Last year, 228 people were killed in Memphis. Of that number, 195 of those homicides were classified as murders. Having said that, Sessions made Memphis out to be the source of the state’s drug problem. Because, well, melanin.
After all, Shelby Country – where Memphis is the county seat – has the largest black population in the state of Tennessee. Out of close to a million residents – about 927,644 total – about 483,381 are black. About 40% of the population happens to be white.
Sessions says Memphis is bad
Standing in a room full of 100 or so local, state, and federal law enforcement officers, Sessions cited the 43% spike in murders last year to drive his point home.
“These are people, our citizens whose safety and lives are at stake everyday,” he said. “They are people like the residents in Sycamore Lake Apartments here in northeast Memphis. Last week, two men were shot there and killed during a drug deal, according to the local detectives who worked the case. Tragically, this is not an uncommon thing there; since 2014, seven people, including a soon-to-be mother and her unborn baby, were murdered in just that apartment complex.”
Having said that, it makes sense why the racist white man who happens to be the U.S. Attorney General would mention Memphis in a speech a few weeks ago. Back then, Sessions mentioned Memphis when he gave his speech announcing the reintroduction of stiffer sentencing for drug crimes. The DOJ under the leadership of Sessions announced the rollback of sentencing guidelines established by the Obama administration.
That said, it’s only right that Sessions would come to Memphis to announce the ramping up of the war on drugs – which, as we all know, is really a war on black people. The same war that some, like Michelle Alexander, argue that is responsible for the explosion of the prison population. A war that disproportionately hits communities of color the hardest.
A war from which its forever disenfranchised victims are still trying to recover.
Sessions obviously loved the days of old
Because of the war on drugs, mandatory minimum drug sentences created an environment where one in nine black children now have a parent in prison. It’s also an environment where a drug conviction shuts off virtually all chances of getting a job or a place to live.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Memphis has a crime problem. There’s also no doubt in my mind that Memphis isn’t the source of the state’s opioid addiction problem. However, there has been a shift in the approach to addiction nationally. Rather than criminalizing addiction, policymakers are now focused on investing in treatment programs, as they should. Sessions’ directive is more of the same failed policy. A definite lose-lose for everyone.
“There is no doubt, in my mind, that…the surge of [heroin and opioid abuse] will bring with it a surge in crime,” Sessions said in his speech here in Memphis. “…I was in New Hampshire…there were 50 mothers on the stage who had lost kids to opioid abuse.”
But hey, elections have consequences. As such, many of us will pay for this in the long run.
As such, many of us will pay for this in the long run.
What else would you expect from a racist white man from Alabama? A man who was once deemed to be too racist to be a federal judge. An Attorney General who is vehemently opposed to the Voting Rights Act. A man who as a prosecutor brought false charges of voter fraud against activists who worked with Martin Luther King Jr. A man who was appointed by Donald J. Trump to be the nation’s top legal authority and run the Department of Justice.
Sessions is just being Sessions
While Sessions gets his rocks off throwing black and brown bodies in jail. Whatever you do, don’t expect him to announce any investigations into the questionable deaths of people of color at the hands of the police. Like I said, he’s a racist white man from Alabama.
Sessions said “every lawful tool,” will be used to “take the most violent offenders off our streets.” This may sound all well and good to some. However, we all know that what will come of this are more casualties of America’s longest war. Mind you, it’s a war that may give some fuzzy feelings as they sleep better at night. Ultimately, however, a war black and brown folks won’t win. It’s a war that’s a setback for potential criminal justice reform.
As a Senator, Sessions was one of a few Republican holdouts on criminal justice reform legislation. Before becoming Attorney General, there was bipartisan support for such legislation. Democrats and Republicans alike largely agreed that the status quo was too costly and unsustainable. Now, it’s unlikely that such legislation goes anywhere.
“If you are a gang member, know this: You think you are targeting us. Well, we are targeting you,” Sessions said. “We will find you. We will devastate your networks. We will starve your revenue sources, deplete your ranks and seize your profits. We will not concede a single block or single street corner to illegal gangs,” he added.
This is what happens when you’re cynical and you say that voting doesn’t matter. Or, what happens when you believe that the lives of people of color are expendable. Either way, everyone in society will pay should we continue along this course. Some may not pay as dearly as others. Nonetheless, as a taxpayer, pay they will. After all, freedom ain’t free.