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Jeff Sessions refers to Henry Louis Gates Jr. as ‘some criminal’

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  • Jeff Sessions referred to Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr., one of the nation’s most famous Black scholars, as “some criminal” in an interview with The New York Times Magazine. 
  • Sessions, who served as attorney general under President Trump, is now running for US Senate in Alabama and faces a July 14 primary runoff. 
  • Sessions emphasized how the Department of Justice had supported police under his tenure, and in criticizing Obama, seemed to call Gates — who was wrongfully arrested — a criminal. 
  • “The police had been demoralized. There was all the Obama — there’s a riot, and he has a beer at the White House with some criminal, to listen to him. Wasn’t having a beer with the police officers,” Sessions told The Times.
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Former Attorney General and current US Senate candidate Jeff Sessions referred to Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr., one the nation’s most famous Black scholars, as “some criminal” in an interview with The New York Times Magazine. 

Sessions, who served as attorney general under President Donald Trump from February 2017 to November 2018, is now running for his former US Senate seat in Alabama, which he represented for two decades.

In the interview, published on Tuesday, Sessions highlighted the many ways that the DOJ cracked down on federal crime and emboldened police during his tenure as attorney general. 

“Back to the men and women in blue,” Sessions told The Times’ Elaina Plott of his guiding principle on policing while leading the DOJ. “The police had been demoralized. There was all the Obama — there’s a riot, and he has a beer at the White House with some criminal, to listen to him. Wasn’t having a beer with the police officers. So we said, ‘We’re on your side. We’ve got your back, you got our thanks.'” 

While a spokesperson “declined to elaborate” on what, exactly, Sessions meant, his comments appeared to be a reference the “beer summit” former President Barack Obama held with Gates in 2009.

Gates is not “some criminal,” but one of the most prominent Black scholars, writers, and literary critics in the United States, the Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African-American Research at Harvard University, and the host of the show “Finding Your Roots” on PBS, where he traces the genealogy of celebrities.

In 2009, Gates was wrongfully arrested by a Cambridge police officer and charged with disorderly conduct while trying to enter his own home after someone called 911 and alerted police to a possible break-in. The charges against Gates were dropped, but the incident sparked a nationwide conversation about racial profiling and police relations with Black communities. 

The national dialogue and the scrutiny over the matter culminated in Gates, Obama, former President Joe Biden, and the Cambridge police officer who arrested Gates, Sgt. James Crowley, holding a “beer summit” at the White House.

“President Obama made an innocent comment that the arrest was stupid, which it was. Then all of a sudden all these racists are beating up on him,” Gates recalled in a February 2020 interview with The Times. My whole attitude was channeled through the desire to protect our first black president. But there was another motivation. I thought that it would be hubristic and dishonest if I compared what happened to me to what happens to black people in the inner city.”

Sessions is now headed for a July 14 runoff election against former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville. The winner will face Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, who defeated former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore in a December 2017 special election. 

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