This nation’s first African-American attorney general exists in the historical shadow of this nation’s first black president, but Eric Holder has established himself as one of the most racially progressive AG’s ever to hold the office. Over the course of his tenure, Holder has addressed a wide-range of policy issues that advance progressively situated, race-based outcomes.
Barely thirty days in office, Holder called us out as a “nation of cowards” when it comes to discourses on race. Many conservatives were predictably outraged at these comments, but few reflected on the fact that Holder was addressing his Justice Department. His words set the table for the issues and policy initiatives that he was preparing to confront during his time as the top prosecutor in the nation. He was preparing his staff and his associates for what is evolving into a racially dynamic Justice Department. And who said Obama doesn’t care about black people?
One of Holder’s signature policy moves was to dramatically reduce sentencing disparities between criminals prosecuted for distributing powder cocaine versus those prosecuted for distributing crack cocaine. For a variety of demographic and economic reasons this particular move toward justice directly alleviated an inherent imbalance in the sentences levied at drug dealers (and drug users) of color and of low economic status.
While Obama gave one of the most poignant public statements regarding the tragic murder of Trayvon Martin — “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon . . .” — Holder’s Justice Department was investigating the Sanford Police department’s handling of the case, applying pressure on the City of Sanford to pursue justice and disclosure over cover-ups and business as usual. Recently, the Sanford Chief of Police resigned. The Justice Department’s efforts here extend to the very legitimacy of the “Stand Your Ground Laws” that are responsible for too many under-prosecuted murders of young people of color.
This week the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement organization released a report that details rampant violence against black and brown folk at the hands of police and vigilante-like faux-neighborhood-watch types. The report suggests that a person of color is murdered every 40 hours. Holder’s Justice Department has taken innovative steps to generate preventive solutions to violence against youth and to specifically address the homicide rates of young black men.