WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden’s election as Justice Department civil rights chief, Kristen Clarke, pledges to make racial equality a top priority, drawing on her experience as a longtime civil rights attorney and single mother of a black teenage boy.
“As I look to my own son … I keep my promise to work every day to build a world of equal opportunities for all,” said Clarke in a prepared opening speech. “A world in which no 16-year-old is the target of a hateful language. A world in which no young man is racially profiled. I dream of a world that values his mind, his heart … and therefore does not put him aside pushes the color of his skin. That’s what I dream of for every kid in America. “
Clarke’s confirmation hearing, which is expected to be controversial, begins Wednesday. She appeared with Biden’s candidate to head the Justice Department’s environmental department.
If this were confirmed, Clarke would be the first black woman to fill the post. She is expected to play a pivotal role in the Biden government’s efforts to revive the Justice Department’s investigation into police departments, as well as in prosecuting hate crimes and enforcing voting laws.
Her nomination follows a summer of anti-social justice protests sparked by the deaths and injuries of black men and women in encounters with police, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Protests broke out in Minneapolis this week after a police officer shot Daunte Wright while in a traffic obstruction.
COVID-related hate crimes against Asian Americans have also increased, and Conservative states have made aggressive efforts to pass laws that proponents say would make it difficult for minority voters to vote.
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Since her appointment, Clarke, president of the Civil Rights Advocacy Committee, has been accused of anti-Semitism by critics based on an incident 25 years ago when Clarke’s group of students at Harvard University hosted an author accused of anti-Semitic views. Clarke said she regretted inviting author Tony Martin.
The Jewish attorney general Merrick Garland has defended Clarke. “I’m pretty good at judging what an anti-Semite is, and I don’t think she’s an anti-Semite. And I don’t think she’s in any way discriminatory,” Garland said during his confirmation hearing.
Dozens of local, state, and national Jewish organizations have come to Clarke’s defense, describing her as a “highly trained and passionate civil rights activist” whose experience is “unparalleled.”
Conservative media have also looked at a nearly three-decade-old letter that Clarke co-wrote for Harvard Crimson as president of the University of Harvard’s Black Students Association. Responding to the 1994 book “The Bell Curve,” which links race and intelligence, Clarke wrote that melanin in their skin gives blacks “superior physical and mental abilities.”
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In a recent interview with the striker, Clarke said her intention to assert blacks’ superiority was “to express an equally absurd point of view – to combat one ridiculous absurd racist theory with another ridiculous absurd theory.”
Clarke and Vanita Gupta, another Biden candidate for a top Justice Department job and also a woman of color, received unusually bitter criticism from Republicans and Conservative groups ahead of their confirmation hearings. Senator Mike Lee, R-Utah, has indicated that he intends to investigate Clarke’s views and question her aptitude to lead the Civil Rights Division.
In her opening speech, Clarke referred to her experience in promoting civil rights. “In every role I have held, I have worked with and for people of all origins – regardless of race, national origin, religion or disability status,” she said. “I have listened carefully to all sides of the debate, regardless of their political affiliation.”
Clarke, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, began her career as an attorney for the Department of Justice. She prosecuted police brutality, hate crimes and human trafficking cases, and enforced voting laws. She continued her voting rights advocacy for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and was also the civil rights officer for the New York District Attorney’s Office.
Featuring: Kevin Johnson
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