Heard any good jokes lately? Desiree Fairooz did. But laughing at it got her thrown in jail.
That’s right: Fairooz was just convicted for laughing during the confirmation hearing of now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions in January 2017. She’d attended the hearing, in her own words, to “oppose his ascent to the most powerful law enforcement position in the country.”
From his vote against the 2013 renewal of the Violence Against Women Act to his openly hostile rhetoric towards immigrants, Sessions’ record is spattered with examples of efforts to discriminate against marginalized groups.
So, when Senator Richard Shelby began his line of questioning by praising Sessions for his “extensive record of treating all Americans equally under the law,” Fairooz did what anyone who’s just heard a joke would do: She laughed.
Fairooz was then ejected from the hearing room by Capitol Hill police, then jailed and processed. Stunningly, she was convicted of two counts of unlawful conduct on Capitol grounds. She faces a year in prison with the possibility of additional fines and community service as well.
Desiree Fairooz was right to laugh at the misplaced praise heaped upon Sessions. The former Alabama senator’s civil rights record is laughable.
For proof, look no further than the decision from the Sessions-directed Department of Justice to forgo prosecuting the two police officers responsible for the death of Alton Sterling, an unarmed black man in Baton Rouge whom the officers pinned to the ground and shot to death last year.
In the entirely false dichotomy between defending police officers and pursuing justice for the victims of police violence, Sessions has maintained no illusions about which side he falls on.
As a senator, Sessions participated in a hearing provocatively titled “The War on Police,” in which he chided the Obama administration for investigating police misconduct. Sessions disdained such investigations as indicative of “an agenda that’s been a troubling issue for a number of years.”
As attorney general, Sessions announced in April that his Department of Justice would review all reform agreements the Obama administration made with local departments. He’d previously disparaged those civil rights reforms as “dangerous” for their tendency to “undermine respect for our police officers.”
That decision signals that Sessions not only intends to undermine existing reforms, but that he’s taken the first steps to make good on his professed interest in doing away with them altogether.
Now, it seems that the attorney general’s conception of “respect” for law enforcement extends to empowering officers to commit violence with impunity as well. By not prosecuting the officers who killed Sterling, he’s sending a powerful message: Victims of police violence have no advocate in the Department of Justice.
At best, the department now makes excuses for police misconduct. At worst, it seemingly encourages it.
Alton Sterling didn’t end up pinned on his back of his own volition. Nor did he fire the stream of bullets that ultimately ended his life. Sterling was wrestled to the ground and shot to death by a police officer for being a black man at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Alton Sterling didn’t deserve to die — and he didn’t deserve to have his memory vandalized by this further injustice offered by the Department of Justice.
The American justice apparatus has revealed that it’s more willing to prosecute laughter than murder. So, the next time Sessions attempts to tout his civil rights record, do what Desiree Fairooz did: laugh and resist.
Ebony Slaughter-Johnson is a freelance writer whose work covers history, race, and criminalizing poverty. Distributed by OtherWords.org.