- Ben Jealouspresident of People for the American Way and former president of the NAACP.
We look at President Biden’s nomination of Kristen Clarke to become the first Black woman to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the conservative smear campaign against the veteran civil rights lawyer. The far-right Fox News host Tucker Carlson has devoted at least five segments to attacking Clarke’s nomination, including baseless accusations of anti-Semitism. Ben Jealous, president of People for the American Way and former president of the NAACP, says “the right-wing attack machine” springs into action whenever Black nominees are up for confirmation. “They make sport, quite frankly, of trying to defame their character, destroy their reputation, and they see women of color as being very vulnerable,” says Jealous. He also addresses the state of police-community relations in the U.S. and efforts to stop police impunity for killing Black people.
AMY GOODMAN: Yes, this is Democracy Now! It’s The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
And we’re continuing to talk about what’s happening in Minnesota and around this country amid ongoing police abuse, hate crimes and increasing attacks on voting rights. We look now at President Biden’s nomination of Kristen Clarke, head of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, to become the first Black woman to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division — what the former Attorney General Eric Holder called the agency’s “crown jewel.”
Clarke is set to appear Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee for her confirmation hearing amidst an onslaught of attacks from Republicans. So far this year, the far-right Fox News host Tucker Carlson has devoted at least five segments to attacking Clarke’s nomination. Last month, he interviewed Maureen Faulkner, widow of the Philadelphia police officer Mumia Abu-Jamal — widow of the police officer who Mumia Abu-Jamal was convicted of killing, Daniel Faulkner. Faulkner accused Clarke of working to free Mumia, even though Clarke worked on voting rights while she was with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, not Mumia Abu-Jamal’s case. Support for Mumia Abu-Jamal was also used in 2014 to attack the nomination of another Black civil rights attorney, Debo Adegbile, to the same DOJ position. He actually worked on the case, unlike Clarke, though that is hardly disqualifying. This is Faulkner attacking Clarke on Fox.
MAUREEN FAULKNER: She hates white people. That’s my honest-to-God truth feeling. And she wants to defund the police. She’s a vile woman, and she’s dangerous. I know she has said things about the Jewish people, and now she seems to be backpedaling on all this, now that she’s being called out on it.
AMY GOODMAN: In fact, Kristen Clarke is a longtime champion of voting rights, a defender against hate and violent extremism, a supporter of equality for all. This is video released by the People for the American Way in support of Clarke.
SUSAN KARTELL: My name is Susan Kartell, and I’ve worked for 26 years at Con Edison in New York. You know, this was the good old boys club. They would make commentaries about your chest or, you know, your behind. When we met Kristen Clarke, we found somebody that believed in us. She gave us our life back. She said to Con Ed, “You will treat everybody equal.” Kristen really did make our fight her fight. Now we need to make her fight our fight. Go to HerFightOurFight.org, and tell your senators, “Support Kristen Clarke.”
AMY GOODMAN: Kristen Clarke’s confirmation hearing comes as another civil rights lawyer, Vanita Gupta, awaits a Senate vote on her nomination to become the Justice Department’s assistant attorney general.
For more, we go to Ben Jealous, president of People for the American Way, former president of the NAACP.
Ben, welcome back to Democracy Now! Also former gubernatorial candidate in Maryland. Ben, if you can comment on this right-wing smear attack on Kristen Clarke?
BEN JEALOUS: Sure. I mean, first of all, Happy Birthday, Amy!
AMY GOODMAN: Thanks.
BEN JEALOUS: Yeah. You know, the irony of hearing a guest on Tucker Carlson’s show accuse anybody of being anti-Semitic, let alone racist against a group of people, just kind of sits with me. I mean, it was earlier this week that the Anti-Defamation League called for him to be fired because of his anti-Semitism, and the civil rights community has long been concerned about his racism.
But that’s what the right wing will do. You know, there has never been a woman of color to lead the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. There have only been two Black men to ever lead it. And whenever one comes up, they make sport, quite frankly, of trying to destroy their character, trying to defame their character, destroy their reputation. And they see women of color as being very vulnerable, which is why we launched the HerFightOurFight campaign.
Biden has distinguished himself by appointing a number of women of color. He’s expected to appoint a Black woman to the Supreme Court for the first time. And we can already see the right-wing attack machine getting out the sharp knives to go after each of these nominees.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Ben, could you talk about why you think that Kristen Clarke is the best person for the job right now, what — in terms of her track record?
BEN JEALOUS: Oh, she’s incredible. I mean, yeah, she’s incredible. She’s represented the League of Women Voters for years on a number of voting rights cases. She’s been down in the trenches on gender discrimination, on race discrimination, making sure that, you know, as Ms. Kartell said, everyone is treated equal. And when you meet her, she just kind of lights up a room with her commitment to really ensuring that the Constitution has meaning for all the people of this country. That’s exactly who you want leading the Civil Rights Division.
The trouble, of course, is that the Republican Party is in the midst of a massive assault on voting rights and, frankly, defending the right of cops to kill Black people with impunity, and the last thing they want in this moment is a fully staffed United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division led by a civil rights lawyer, led by a voting rights lawyer. That’s their nightmare right now. And so they’re trying to pretend that she is something that she’s not. She is just an incredible fighter for the justice and equality of all of us.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what about the situation with Vanita Gupta, the Judiciary Committee basically deadlocked along partisan lines on her nomination? What is your sense of how women of color are being dealt with even in the Biden administration right now by Senate Republicans?
BEN JEALOUS: Well, the good news is that the Senate Democrats intend to get Gupta out of committee in a vote on the floor, and they have the votes. So we’re confident about that.
With regards to the Republicans, all you’ve got to do is go back and roll the tape on how Ted Cruz went after Ms. Gupta. It was vile. It was an embarrassment to the U.S. Senate. It was full of lies and venom. And it really speaks to how fear — you know, how fearful a party that has become characterized by its cowards, by people like Kemp in Georgia, people like Donald Trump, who would rather suppress votes than actually compete for voters — just the lows they will go to keep the U.S. Department of Justice from functioning, while they go about their work of seeking to suppress voters, while they go about their work of preserving the right of the worst officers to kill Black people with impunity.
AMY GOODMAN: Ben, if you can talk about the climate we are in right now, as we talk about the killing of Daunte Wright, this young 20-year-old, the father of an infant, driving with his girlfriend on a Sunday afternoon to a car wash at 2:00 in the afternoon, and he is killed by a white police officer in Brooklyn Center. We’ve got the Derek Chauvin trial; now the defense begins. And we’re talking to you — you’re from Maryland, which just enacted major police reform Saturday, becoming the first state to repeal the police bill of rights and establish new standards for use of force and how police are investigated and disciplined. The majority-Democratic lawmakers overrode the vetoes by Republican Governor Larry Hogan to pass the new measures, which also require officers to use bodycams, strict no-knock warrants, allow for public involvement in matters of police discipline and misconduct. You ran against Larry Hogan. Can you talk about whether you see these kind of developments as enough? You also talk about changes in police departments, like we see in Ithaca, New York, and yet the pace of police murders of unarmed African American men.
BEN JEALOUS: Yeah, we’re seeking to destroy, to end a system that’s reigned in our country for hundreds of years, in which Black people can be killed with impunity by the cops. And, you know, in the state of Minnesota, what we know is that there’s an authoritarianism that runs through law enforcement there, as well as racism.
But in between Philando Castile and George Floyd was Justine Damond who was killed, a white woman, by a Black officer. She was having a seizure, as I recall. And similar to what we saw, this case with the young 20-year-old in Brooklyn [Center], she was not complying, because she was having a seizure. She was shot and killed. In this case, he was not complying; he was shot and killed. And they said, well, you know, they were going to taser a person who’s behind the wheel of a car.
We have got to get to a place in this country where — you know, what’s also important about that case is that he called his mom, afraid. You know, he was with his girlfriend. He still called his mother, afraid of what they may do to him. His father was out grocery shopping. This is every Black parent’s nightmare. And while it sounds like it’s possible that he didn’t make the best decisions in that moment, there are plenty of young white people who don’t make the best decisions when dealing with officers, who don’t end up dead. And that’s what we really have to get to.
Now, what’s exciting about what we’ve seen in upstate New York, in Ithaca, is that they’ve taken a step back and said, “We need to put the police under direct civilian control, have a civilian-led public safety department. And we need to take that half of the work that really is social work, that’s dealing with drunks, that’s dealing with homeless people, and let unarmed social workers respond to them.” So, through attrition, they’re going to replace, as officers quit over time, up to half of them with unarmed, uniformed social workers.
That’s the type of thinking that we need to have. We need to have thinking about, in this moment, with a society as diverse as ours, where we’re deeply committed to people’s equality, where we want everybody to be safe, how do we build public safety departments that represent who we are today, rather than maintain a culture that takes you right back to the worst eras in our history.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Ben, I want to ask you. There are — on some of the conservative, right-wing talk shows, you’re seeing increasing reporting on the rise in crime and violence that is occurring across the country. And I’m wondering if you — and as if to say, “See, what is happening as a result of criticism and more accountability on the police, crime is rising.” I’m wondering your response to this line, because I remember back when I was a young reporter in the '80s and ’90s. I'll never forget the night of the Crown Heights riot in Brooklyn, and I was standing next to several policemen, who were standing by doing nothing while there was increasing violence in the street. And I heard one cop say to the other — this was during the Dinkins era, Mayor Dinkins era — “Now the city will see what Dinkins’ people are going to be doing,” as if to say, “Let them riot.” And I’m wondering to what degree you get a sense that some police departments around the country are, in essence, standing down and allowing violence and crime to escalate as a way of showing the society how much they are needed.
BEN JEALOUS: So, let’s deal with both issues there separately. You know, if you go back to Commissioner Kelly, who kind of came to fame, as I recall, during the Dinkins administration — then I think he was a chief — just on the issue of crime rising and falling, he said, you know, taking credit for that is like taking credit for the moon or the sun rising or setting. That’s under normal times and normal circumstances.
Then you have what appears to be going on now, where you hear just such a preponderance of anecdotes of Black parents calling the department and being told, “Oh, the kids you’re worried about are Black? Oh, we can’t respond, because we’re worried about how we’ll be responded to,” you know, of officers’ unions having conversations about what will happen, you know, positive for the union, if they sit back, if they stay in the station house, if they don’t respond.
And I hope somewhere there’s a lawyer considering bringing a civil RICO case against these FOPs. I mean, the FOP in Minneapolis, let’s not forget that the Minnesota AFL-CIO issued a press statement calling that FOP in Minneapolis a white supremacist organization. We have unions that represent police officers that have gone way beyond the bounds of anything that they should be involved in and are, it appears — it appears —
AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds.
BEN JEALOUS: — suggesting that officers not protect the people that they’ve sworn to protect, in order to strengthen the union’s position in politics. And if that’s actually true, it’s outrageous, and it’s illegal.
AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there, Ben Jealous, president of People for the American Way, former president of the NAACP, thanks so much for joining us.
And a very Happy Birthday to Joe Parker! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.