Six NAACP members face criminal charges after being arrested following a sit-in at Sen. Jeff Sessions’ office. They were protesting the Alabama lawmaker’s nomination to head the Department of Justice, and CNN reports they were charged with criminal trespass in the second-degree. It’s a class C misdemeanor in Alabama, punishable with a fine and potential jail time. But taking that risk is worth it, the NAACP believes, given that the senator has been accused of calling the group “un-American” as well as his long record opposing progress on civil rights.
We talked to Alabama NAACP President Bernard Simelton—one of the six people arrested—as he was driving up to D.C. so that he could “look at [Sessions] face while he’s testifying.” The leader of the Alabama chapter of the civil rights group says he can’t envision what Sessions could say at the hearing that could convince him the senator won’t be a force against racial progress.
“He can say anything at the hearing, but you gotta prove this is you and it’s not just talking,” Simelton says. “Let’s say he comes out in favor of the expansion of the Voting Rights Act, or to overturn voter ID laws. That’s a good thing to say, but is he like his boss, Donald Trump? Where he’s just saying it? Or does he really mean it?” Simelton says. Sessions’ record on voting rights, in fact, suggests that he’s not likely to voice strong support for either policy. But even if he does, that’s just talk, Simelton points out.
“There’s nothing he could say that would make me change my mind, because of what he’s done for 30 years,” he says.
It’s not just the host of racist remarks Sessions has been accused of having made, including calling a white civil rights lawyer a “disgrace to his race” and referring to a black black assistant US attorney as “boy.”
“He seems to be anti-immigrant on policy. He voted against the Lilly Ledbetter act, fair wages between men and women,” Simelton points out.
And even though his reported denigration of the NAACP as un-American happened decades ago, Simelton points out that the senator has not publicly distanced himself from the comments or done much to repair his image with the group.
If he were questioning Sessions at the hearing Tuesday and Wednesday, he’d like to know how he plans to work with civil rights groups to enforce civil rights in America.
“Will he be welcome to [civil rights groups] or call them un-American for ensuring people have equality of justice just like everyone?”