AL NAACP President Simelton on Sit-in, Arrest, Sen. Sessions Confirmation

Jan 5, 2017

Alabama NAACP President Benard Simelton (second from left), NAACP President Cornell William Brooks (second from right) and other activists in Sen. Jeff Sessions' Mobile, Ala. office.
Credit Benard Simelton via twitter

As Alabama’s junior U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions prepares for confirmation hearings next week to become the country’s next Attorney General, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is doing everything they can to prevent it.

Earlier this week, NAACP President Cornell William Brooks and five others were arrested in Mobile while protesting Senator Sessions’ nomination.

Benard Simelton is the President of the Alabama State Chapter of the NAACP. He tells us about the events that took place around the state and in Mobile earlier this week.

Benard Simelton: We had press conferences throughout the state of Alabama, in all the cities where Jeff Sessions has an office. And in Mobile, we went a little further than the press conference. We also had a sit-in.

Alex AuBuchon: And how exactly did the sit-in take shape?

BS: About 11:30 a.m., several of us, about 30 of us went up to sit in Senator Sessions’ office. When we arrived, there were five of us that went in at first. Those were the individuals that figured that we would be arrested, so we wanted to make sure that we were able to get into the office.

The staff there were very courteous, and when we presented our list of demands to them, they were not in favor of contacting… Well, they said the Senator was not available and could not reach out to us. So we said, ‘Well, okay, we’ll just sit here until he decides to talk to us and to discuss the demands that we have.’

And so that never happened, so we just stayed there until about 7:30 p.m. At that time, the police came in – well, before that, the building manager came up and asked us to leave, because they said they had to close the building because of security reasons, and they could not have visitors in the building. I think they said it officially closes at 6 o’clock, or something like that. And we told them that we were not going to leave, and they said, ‘Well, we don’t have any choice but to call the police to escort you out.’

So they called the police, and we were all put in handcuffs and were taken to the jail, and booked, fingerprinted, pictures taken, and processed. And we were charged with criminal trespassing.

AA: More generally, why do you and the NAACP believe Sen. Sessions is not the right man for the job of Attorney General?

BS: We say that Sen. Sessions is not right for the Attorney General position because of his past history of racism, because of his position on immigration, because of his position on things like marriage equality, and because of the position he has really not taken on the Voting Rights Act.

AA: Looking specifically at voting rights, I know there’s one specific case that haunted Sessions, where he very aggressively prosecuted some prominent African-American voting rights activists back in the mid-1980’s. Can you tell us a bit about that case?

BS: You’re talking about the Albert Turner case. That was a case when [Sessions] was the U.S. Attorney for Alabama, in the Southern District. And they were helping individuals register to vote and helping them with their absentee ballots, those that needed help. And [Sessions], for whatever reason, decided to try and prosecute them. Of course, when they went to court, the jury immediately – well, I shouldn’t say immediately, but within about three hours – came back with a verdict not to find them guilty. So he tried to prosecute people for doing what their civic duties were, and to try and further voter suppression in the state of Alabama.

AA: As Sen. Sessions is heading into his confirmation hearings, what do you want to see in that procedure?

BS: The Judiciary Committee, as they’re going through their process of confirmation, we want them to treat him like he has treated others who have come through the judiciary process. Treat him like Loretta Lynch, and all those who have come through the judiciary process. Don’t give him a rubber stamp saying that, ‘Well, he’s on the Judiciary Committee, he’s a Senator…’ What has he done to deserve, you know… Make him prove that he deserves, and that he’s the right person for the Attorney General position, and not just because the President wants him to serve – or President-elect, rather.