On Monday, Feb. 12, Attorney General Jeff Sessions addressed the National Sheriff's Association in Washington, D.C. While praising the group of law enforcement officials for all the work they do, Sessions went a little off script and utilized a rather odd choice of terminology that made people, well, uneasy — to put it lightly. And these tweets about Jeff Sessions' "Anglo-American heritage" comment prove it.
According to Talking Points Memo, Sessions deviated some from his prepared speech, which the Department of Justice (DOJ) posted to their website on Monday. Sessions was closing out his speech by complimenting the work of the sheriffs and thanking them for all the hard work they do, when he referred to law enforcement's "Anglo-American heritage."
"The office of the sheriff is a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement," he said. “We must never erode this historic office.”
According to the script of his original speech, however, the line was supposed to be, "The sheriff is a critical part of our legal heritage."
Elite Daily reached out to the DOJ for comment on why Sessions switched out the term "legal" for "Anglo-American." A DOJ spokesperson responded,
Anglo-American law — also known as the common law — is a shared legal heritage between England and America. The sheriff is unique to that shared legal heritage. Before reporters sloppily imply nefarious meaning behind the term, we would suggest that they read any number of the Supreme Court opinions that use the term. Or they could simply put 'Anglo-American law' into Google.
As Prior notes, United States law is based in the English, or "Anglo" legal system, and the term "Anglo-American law" is synonymous with what we often call "common law." But with that said, there is also a very real reason why some people are calling out Sessions' words.
"Anglo-American" distinctly cites a European connection and has connotations of whiteness, especially compounded with the term "heritage" — a term that is often used by white supremacists and neo-Confederates when trying to defend their position on displaying Confederate flags or statues. It might have sounded a little less strange if Sessions had said "Anglo-American law" instead. Then you might have been able to brush it off and say, "maybe he just meant common law." But whether Sessions realized the connotation or not, this phrasing is a little harder to overlook in an era where questions of racial bias in policing and the Black Lives Matter movement are a huge part of the political conversation.
So it is definitely understandable why many people were upset with Sessions' "Anglo-American heritage" terminology.
Many Twitter users were definitely upset.
It seems that Twitter doesn't believe that Sessions' comment was harmless, and that might be because this wasn't the first time Sessions was accused of saying something offensive.
Sessions has come under fire many times for allegedly saying things that are less than, let's say, "enlightened" when it comes to race.
Back in December 2016, after Trump announced that Sessions was his pick for attorney general,The Washington Post ran an article that combed through a transcript from a 1986 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that took place when then-President Ronald Reagan tapped Sessions to be a federal judge. During the hearings, Sessions was questioned over reports of alleged racial insensitivity and prejudice, and the alleged quotes that came out of it weren't good. (Sessions was ultimately not appointed as a federal judge.)
The hearings highlighted alleged statements in which Sessions said that civil rights organizations like the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Operation PUSH were all "un-American organizations teaching anti-American values." Sessions later said that he believed the organizations lost support and moral authority by "involv[ing] themselves in promoting un-American positions" and foreign policy stances, and stated that he did not think the organizations themselves were un-American, per the Post.
He also reportedly said that organizations like the NAACP "force civil rights down the throats of people." Sessions said he didn't recall saying any such thing.
And when it comes to white supremacist groups? Sessions reportedly said, "I thought those guys [the Ku Klux Klan] were OK until I learned they smoked pot." Upon questioning, Sessions claimed that the comment was just a joke and he didn't think anyone would take it seriously — though other senators questioned why he would think it was OK to make the joke in the first place, according to The Washington Post.
So this is not the first time Sessions' views on race have come into question.
And the rest of his speech on Monday probably didn't help either.
"The most important thing that any government does is keep its citizens safe. The first civil right is the right to be safe," Sessions stated in his speech to the sheriffs. "Too often, politics gets in the way of that mission," he added.
Sessions also goes on to say, "President Trump understands that law enforcement officers are not the problem — they’re the solution."
Obviously, everyone can make their own decisions about Sessions "Anglo-American heritage" comment, the bottom line is, law enforcement should always be there to protect everyone who needs it and make everyone feel safe in the place they live.