Black Agenda Report’s Glen Ford says outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder has determined his legacy by failing to address systemic issues
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore. And welcome to the latest edition of the Ford report. We’re now joined by Glen Ford. He’s the executive editor of Black Agenda Report. Thank you so much for joining us again this week, Glen. GLEN FORD, EXEC. EDITOR, BLACK AGENDA REPORT: As always, thanks for the opportunity. NOOR: So, Glen, we know you have some thoughts on your mind about Eric Holder and some recent events. Go ahead. FORD: Well, Eric Holder’s been saying his long goodbyes since September when he announced that he’d step down as soon as President Obama could find somebody to replace him. That person appears to be Loretta Lynch. So, for the past five months there’s been this long, extended conversation about Eric Holder’s legacy as the first black attorney general. And that, of course, becomes an extended conversation about President Obama’s legacy as the first black president, especially as it relates to civil rights and to the criminal justice system. That criminal justice system has been under a spotlight, under close scrutiny, certainly by black people, ever since Trayvon Martin was shot down in Sanford, Florida, three years ago, in February 2012. President Obama’s poll numbers among blacks fell after Trayvon Martin was killed. That was his first fall, in terms of black support, for his entire residency. And I think the first thing that we need to note in evaluating Eric Holder’s tenure in charge of the U.S. Justice Department is that he inherited a Justice Department that had been gutted by the previous administration, by George W. Bush’s administration. They had beat up on the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department like it was a pinata. And they perverted the whole purpose of that Civil Rights Division by installing right-wing ideologues, very far-right lawyers all throughout the division, and turning, effectively, the purpose of the division on its head. So Eric Holder could not possibly help but look good compared to the George Bush administration’s attorneys general. And he also couldn’t possibly look anything but good when compared to Bill Clinton’s attorney general. That was Janet Reno. Under Bill Clinton, more people were put in prison for longer periods of time than under any other president. However, there’s a hook here, because Eric Holder was part of Janet Reno’s Justice Department. He was her deputy attorney general. He was in effect the black front person for the Clinton administration’s Justice Department. You saw him out front carrying her water. And Janet Reno and her deputy, Eric Holder, didn’t say or do anything about these long minimum mandatory sentences or about the horrible one hundred to one punishment ratio for crack cocaine not during her tenure. By the time that President Obama gets into office, there already exists a consensus among conservatives, as well as, of course, so-called liberals, that the crack cocaine punishments are unjust. There is also a consensus by the time Obama becomes president–a consensus that includes large segments of the right wing–that the U.S. prison system is too large. And so it appears that the administration’s very modest efforts to–. NOOR: Well, Glen, I mean, I would say the conservatives would say it’s too expensive and it’s too large because it’s too expensive. They don’t oppose locking up poor and black people just on the principle, of course. FORD: That’s right. And they would never say that it was racist, but that it was too big, as you said, a drain on the U.S. Treasury. But there still existed this consensus. There was a consensus that somehow the system needed to be pared down for the public good, not necessarily for black folks’ good. And so it was very easy, then, I believe, politically speaking, for the Obama administration to make liberal-sounding noises about this criminal justice system. It didn’t take much political courage at all. And, in fact, as Bruce Dixon has reported, although the Obama administration supported the congressional action that reduced the hyper-penalty for crack cocaine from 100 to 1 to 18 to 1, it immediately sent its Justice Department into court to make sure that that reversal, that rollback, was not retroactive. And that resulted in thousands of prison inmates serving out their full sentences under that law. Why did he do that? Because the president didn’t want to set any judicial precedent that might somehow lessen the prosecutorial government. There of course have been no civil rights indictments for the killers of Trayvon Martin or for Michael Brown or for Eric Garner. We have to point out that even George Bush the elder brought civil rights charges against the police who were involved in Rodney King’s beating after those police had been acquitted by a jury. Of course, to be fair and to put it into real historical context, George Bush the elder brought those charges after a large part of Los Angeles was burned down and billions of dollars in damages were done and lots of people got killed. Eric Holder gets praise, and many folks on the ground think it’s justified, for having initiated actions that resulted in about 20 cities and police departments coming under consent decrees, that is, some kind of federal oversight because of their racial policies. And people on the ground say that at least initially, at least when those decrees are first issued, that does have a salutary effect on the behavior of police, at least in the short term. But I think people also need to be reminded that Los Angeles was heralded–and not just by the corporate media, but by the Justice Department and Eric Holder himself–as a kind of model of what consent decrees can achieve. Los Angeles came under one of those decrees in 2001 and was recently released from it. And yet, what do I see this morning when I look at my email but a video of a black homeless person being shot to death. NOOR: Now, Glen, we actually have that video. We’re going to play it. But a warning to our viewers: it’s very graphic. VIDEO PLAYS NOOR: So, as you can see in that video, there was an altercation. According to reports, the police tried using a Taser. It appears to not have been effective. And the police eventually shot and killed the man who hasn’t been identified except for a nickname. And that’s–we don’t know much more about him, except for the fact that he was homeless. Glen, back to you. FORD: Well, you saw the same thing that I saw, and what I saw seemed to be a police murder after it’s used the term that we used to use a couple of decades ago, after the police vamped on a bunch of homeless folks. Now, although the killer of Michael Brown will not face any wrath from Eric Holder’s Justice Department, the city of Ferguson is coming under some kind of pressure. The Justice Department says that it will focus on the city’s practice of arresting and stopping more black people than it does white people and of becoming dependent upon arrests, fines, etc., of largely black–its black population, to fund its city government. NOOR: It’s, like, the second-highest source of income for the city government. FORD: That’s right. And it’s related–it’s resulted in a situation in which the average black household in Ferguson has three outstanding warrants. And this is a pattern and practice. But if the Justice Department is really serious about this and not trying to use this as some kind of demonstration effect to say that we’re doing something about Ferguson and related situations, it could bring the same kinds of charges against literally every city in the United States if we’re talking about the results and a pattern and practice of more black folks being stopped and charged and sent to jail for longer periods, etc. And that indeed would be a great legacy if we didn’t have some kind of grandstanding effect focused on Ferguson but a general statement of legal principle from this outgoing attorney general that every city in the United States can expect to be brought under this new standard of justice. NOOR: Well, Glen Ford, we’re not going to hold our breaths on Eric Holder doing that before he leaves office. FORD: No, we can’t do that. What we need to do is ramp up the pressure so that the next attorney general, whether they are good of heart or not, will respond to the needs of the people. NOOR: Thank you so much for joining us. FORD: Thank you. NOOR: Thank you for joining us at The Real News Network.
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