Not in Our Name, Mr. Sessions

Mercedes Williamson — a teenage girl — was stabbed to death by her former boyfriend because she was transgender.

Yesterday, her murderer, Joshua Vallum, was sentenced to 49 years in prison, in the first application of the federal hate crimes law against the killer of a transgender person.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions deserves no credit for this important prosecution.

In 2009, he voted against the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, but not before attempting to derail the bill by trying to add the death penalty to the bill as a punishment, in an attempt to split the bill’s supporters.

He is doing the same thing today.

Last Friday, Jeff Sessions reignited the “War on Drugs” by instructing federal prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges and seek mandatory minimum sentences in the vast majority of cases.

This new directive rescinded a 2013 Justice Department policy that sought to avoid mandatory minimums for low-level, non-violent drug offenders, after years of experience proved that long prison sentences in such cases did nothing to make us safer, while ripping families and communities (disproportionately communities of color) apart.

By touting the conviction and sentence given to Mercedes Williamson’s murderer yesterday, Sessions clearly — and cynically — hopes to use violence against transgender people as a way to disarm progressives who are speaking out against Sessions’ misguided and racially-charged approach to criminal justice.

His statement yesterday piously invoking “the importance of holding individuals accountable when they commit violent acts against transgender individuals” is the height of hypocrisy. Don’t be fooled — he has no sympathy for LGBTQ people.

Jeff Sessions has spent a lifetime opposing civil rights for LGBTQ people and others. The case against Mercedes Williamson’s murderer was brought by President Obama’s Justice Department, and Mr. Sessions can claim no credit that Ms. Williamson is receiving some small measure of posthumous justice.

As the leading legal organization representing LGBTQ people, we reject Jeff Sessions’ exploitation.

Under Attorney General Sessions, the DOJ’s actions have given comfort and cover to those who torment transgender people. From revoking the guidance that reassured trans and queer kids that they are welcome in school, to dropping the government’s lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s notorious HB 2, Jeff Sessions is no friend to our community.

We will not allow him to cynically yoke the historic first conviction in an anti-transgender hate crime to his plan to double down on mass incarceration. The same communities of color who are most at risk from anti-trans hate crimes are also those most targeted by Sessions’ reboot of the failed “War on Drugs” sentencing strategy.

We object.

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