The first Black US Attorney General, like the president who appointed him, entered office with high expectations among Black folks. We now know what to expect from the Obama administration: nothing. After years of betrayal, the families of victims around the country must let go of any illusions that Department of Justice or the White House is in their corner.
Eric Holder’s departure as Attorney General provides an important opportunity to assess his legacy and its impact on the African-American community. Political legacies are determined, much like political systems, by who gets what, when and where; how the wealth of a society is distributed and how corporate elites consolidate political power. The legacy of Malcolm X is rooted in his determination to fight for African-American self-determination; Martin Luther King, Jr.’s in civil rights expressed in economic and political struggle for equality; Harriet Tubman, in armed struggle to combat white supremacy and human trafficking of kidnapped Africans (commonly referred to as slavery.)
The legacy of Eric Holder as US Attorney General, unlike the above notables, will not be one of honor or integrity but rather defined by his unwavering commitment to serve Wall Street, shield banking executives, promote the surveillance state, and protect killer cops who have waged a deadly war against African-Americans on behalf of their masters. Holder’s tenure as US Attorney General helps to dispel the myth that African-Americans serving in elite government positions have a material interest in serving the political or economic interest of the African-American community or humanity in general.
Holder enjoys basking in his historic role as the first Black Attorney General. As a result of the killing of teenager Michael Brown and the popular uprising that resulted in Ferguson, Missouri, Holder appeared at the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, the sacred desk of Dr. Martin Luther King’s pastorate, to lay out the Obama administrations’ “new” framework for community policing. After a respectful litany of Dr. King’s civil rights accomplishments, Holder diverts from his official text to share personal insights with the congregation (03:38):
“I stand here today as a result of the work that he (Martin Luther King, Jr.) did. Who could have imagined 50 years ago that a Black man would be the Attorney General of the United States serving a Black man as President of the United States?”
Holder is right, he was a direct beneficiary of the sacrifices of hundreds, perhaps thousands of Black folks who risked their lives and livelihoods in communities across the country, like Selma and Montgomery, to ensure that Holder and his cohorts would have the advantages of an Ivy League education and a future that was unimaginable to them. These communities had every right to expect that recipients of their sacrifice would be held accountable and, more importantly, that Holder in his position as Attorney General would protect them and their children.
This betrayal and lack of accountability is crystalized every time an unarmed black man or woman is slaughtered in the streets every 28 hours by a killer cop, or a court rules, without fear of appeal by the Department of Justice, that the murder was a “good kill” or justified as in the recent Cleveland, Ohio case of unarmed police victims Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell or 12 year old Tamir Rice, killed by Cleveland police at 3:30 pm on November 22, 2014 – whose body was held by the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department without burial for 6 months. A recent Cleveland, Ohio police investigation made the unfathomable claim that Tamir caused his own death.
Holder acknowledges the destructive role of the criminal justice system and the Department of Justice:
“It’s time – in fact, it’s well past time – to address persistent needs and unwarranted disparities by considering a fundamentally new approach. As a prosecutor; a judge; an attorney in private practice; and now, as our nation’s Attorney General, I’ve seen the criminal justice system firsthand, from nearly every angle. While I have the utmost faith in – and dedication to – America’s legal system, we must face the reality that, as it stands, our system is in too many respects broken …. with an outsized, unnecessarily large prison population, we need to ensure that incarceration is used to punish, deter, and rehabilitate – not merely to warehouse and forget.
Today, a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality, and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities. And many aspects of our criminal justice system may actually exacerbate these problems, rather than alleviate them.”
In order to maintain the status quo, a position expected of an US Attorney General regardless of race, the apparatus and integrity of white supremacy and mass incarceration had to be upheld.The DOJ cum White House threw out a cynical bone of hollow promises that they would investigate the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice to buy more time for the resistance to police terror across the country to burn out.
To his credit, Holder’s investigation into the Ferguson/St Louis Police Department exposed a level of racist depravity, through e-mails and internal memo’s, that residence of these communities had asserted for years. Despite the high profile investigations and preponderance of evidence that the police force used excessive force, and that vigilante Zimmerman hunted down the 17 year old, DOJ exonerated Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the murder of Michael Brown and George Zimmerman in the murder of Trayvon Martin. The Wilson/Zimmerman acquittals breathe life into the adage: the surgery was successful but the patient died.
President Obama and the Department of Justice have forfeited any legal or moral legitimacy by exonerating the killers of unarmed Trayvon and Michael, thus providing the perfect storm for a war against Black and Brown people. According to new documents obtained by CNN, the Missouri National Guard referred to African-Americans protesting the vicious killing of Michael Brown as “enemy forces” and “adversaries,” dousing any notion that military/police forces view Black folks as anything but subversive elements in US society. These examples illustrate the depravity and abomination of white supremacy/capitalism that compel us to question on what basis should African people have any allegiance to the current political structure?
Sadly, the families of John Crawford III, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner and all the other victims around the country must let go of any illusions that DOJ or the White House is in their corner. As I explored in a previous BAR article, we now know what to expect from the Obama administration – nothing. We now know what to expect from the president’s commission on policing – nothing. We have by now seen the only real policy the government has to offer – waiting us out until the storm blows over. That’s it.
Part II of the Holder retrospective will explore the DOJ war against whistleblowers and protection of banking executives.