Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose political career has been dogged by allegations of racist comments, faces a fresh backlash after harkening back to the “Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement” during a speech to the National Sheriffs’ Association on Monday.
“Since our founding, the independently elected sheriff has been the people’s protector, who keeps law enforcement close to and accountable to people through the elected process,” he said at the organization’s winter conference. “The office of sheriff is a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement. We must never erode this historic office.”
The Anglo-American comment may have been unscripted as it did not appear in a copy of his prepared remarks published by the Department of Justice. That copy reads: “Since our founding, the independently elected Sheriff has been seen as the people’s protector, who keeps law enforcement close to and amenable to the people. The Sheriff is a critical part of our legal heritage.”
There could well be an innocent explanation for Sessions’s comment, with some speculating that he meant only to refer to the policing structure the United States inherited from Britain or even the Anglo-Saxon route of the word. “Sheriff” is a portmanteau of the Anglo-Saxon words “shire,” meaning “county,” and “reeve,” meaning “guardian,” according to The Washington Post.
Important to note that he could have very likely been referring to the organizational structures of policing from Britain that the US adopted. Still, he should know better than to use such loaded language
— Tess Owen (@misstessowen) February 12, 2018
But Sessions’s history led some on social media to be less generous with their interpretation.
“Under any other administration I’d call this an innocuous historical footnote; in the current context, my ‘benefit of the doubt’ reserves are pretty well depleted,” tweeted Julian Sanchez, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.
Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, tweeted a quote from her mother’s 1986 opposition to Sessions’s nomination for a federal judgeship.
“The irony of Mr. Sessions’s nomination is that, if confirmed, he will be given a life tenure for doing with a federal prosecution what the local sheriffs accomplished twenty years ago with clubs and cattle prods,” Bernice King tweeted.
"The irony of Mr. Sessions' nomination is that, if confirmed, he will be given a life tenure for doing with a federal prosecution what the local sheriffs accomplished twenty years ago with clubs and cattle prods.” #CorettaScottKing, 1986 https://t.co/hZzSTKj6UY
— Be A King (@BerniceKing) February 12, 2018
Sessions was later denied that federal judgeship over allegations of making racist comments when he referred to Thomas Figures, a black assistant U.S. attorney who worked for him, as “boy.”
Sessions denied the allegations at the time, telling the Senate Judiciary Committee: “I am not a racist, I am not insensitive to blacks. I have supported civil rights activity in my state. I have done my job with integrity, equality, and fairness for all.”
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