Don’t Fall for Jeff Sessions Helping Prosecute a Trans Homicide in Iowa

· Updated on May 28, 2018

According to the New York Times, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has sent a federal hate crimes lawyer to Iowa to help prosecute a high school student charged with the murder of Kedarie/Kandicee Johnson, a black transgender young person shot to death in 2016.

While on paper this sounds like a good thing the Times said the move “defies his image on civil rights,” some members of the transgender community have spoken out against the Times’ framing of the story.

In a series of tweets on his personal Twitter, American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Chase Strangio decried the article and any insinuation that Sessions was helping the transgender community.

“Please stop reporting on the Sessions decision as being a defense of trans people, it is a defense of prisons,” Strangio wrote in one tweet.

In an interview with Strangio, who works at the ACLU but spoke about his own opinions, he went even further in his criticism of Sessions.

While Strangio did note that it is “impossible to speculate,” as to why Sessions was attracted to this particular case, Strangio said he was less concerned with why Sessions has decided to act on this case and more concerned with the collective response to the news. Strangio said he wants to ensure “that we don’t allow him to eclipse the very real damage he has done and will continue to do to trans and gender non-conforming communities through the exercise of his power and authority at DOJ.”

While the Times characterized the decision as defying Sessions’ usual agenda, Strangio said there is “nothing about this action that is inconsistent” with his previous positions as a “tough-on-crime, pro-punishment, prosecutor and politician.”

Strangio pointed to a string of specific anti-LGBTQ stances that Sessions has taken. Aside from his decision to rescind protections for transgender workers, Sessions fought against hate crimes protections for LGBTQ victims. Strangio said Sessions’ decision is not a change of heart, but a way to use the law to continue his tough-on-crime agenda, which ends up harming marginalized communities more than helping.

“It is incredibly dangerous to give the system more tools to incarcerate more people for longer periods of time,” Strangio said. “It is just as important that we recognize the reality of enhanced penalties and hate crimes prosecutions.”

Strangio said the end result of Sessions’ line of thinking will be “more people of color behind bars, less healing, less investment in communities” and that “we will continue to misunderstand why and how violence happens in our society.”

Rather than focus on this one case, Strangio urged people to turn their attention to the “structural realities” that transgender people face.

“The reality is that we will never properly shine light on violence against trans individuals if we don’t grapple with our inadequate and white supremacist systems of health care, education, housing, and criminal injustice,” he said.

Strangio was not the only person who called out both Jeff Sessions and media coverage of the Iowa case.

In a statement to INTO, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality Mara Keisling said Sessions’ action “rings hollow even hypocritical in the face of his systematic and relentless attacks against transgender people and other LGBTQ people.” “If Attorney General Sessions truly wants to protect the rights of transgender people, he must understand how his policies contribute to an environment that promotes violence against transgender people,” Keisling said. “As the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, he should be enforcing all the federal laws that protect transgender people.”

In a statement on their blog, Lambda Legal also called Jeff Sessions a “hypocrite.”

“No one in the Trump administration has done more to harm LGBT people, and especially transgender people, than Jeff Sessions – and in a government chock full of anti-LGBT appointees, that is saying a lot,” the statement reads.

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