Protestors lined up across the street from the Memorial Presbyterian Church in Roosevelt, Long Island this Sunday. It is one of the most influential black churches on Long Island and it counts U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s mother and brother among the congregation. The protestors waved signs protesting Eric Holder’s decision to hold the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York City with slogans like “Holder mocks 9-11” and waving flags with the “Don’t Tread On Me” snake.
The church, a very large timber frame building, was filled to capacity with an overflow crowd in the basement meeting hall. People were so pressed together that a young woman was overcome and removed by ambulance. Several older congregants had to be helped out for air. Between the protestors and the fainting spells, the Nassau County police worked hard on Sunday.
The service opened with Associate Pastor Yvonne Collie-Pendelton welcoming the congregation to the Third Week of Advent, when the candle representing Joy is lit. The choir sang, the liturgical dancers whirled around like Renaissance angels, the prayers said, sins confessed and scripture read.
Pastor Tuggle’s sermon, “Do Not Dismiss the Child,” expounded that newborns arrive into this world with gifts and talents from the Almighty and how each child has an obligation not to let circumstances of birth like poverty, bad neighborhoods or broken homes stand in the way of reaching his or her full potential. The pastor pointed out that he is the child of an unwed mother, but did not use that as an excuse to fail.
He said it is the duty of the congregation to nurture the children in its midst and help them overcome. He mentions the struggles of the congregants over 70 who created the opportunities that today’s children are expected to fulfill. And he spoke about the civil rights struggle and figures like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King., Jr. It was an inspirational talk.
William Holder, who is an elder in the congregation, introduced his brother Eric. He began with a shout out to the FBI agents, some by name, who keep his “baby brother” safe. It must be an inside joke because Eric is older than William.
Like the sermon that preceded it, William’s introduction is was itself an inspirational speech. He pointed out that Holder inherited a Department that was “tarnished by politically motivated personnel decisions” and which had endorsed torture and which had lost its sovereignty. William invoked former Attorney General Robert Jackson, who as a Supreme Court Justice participated in a decision setting the limits of presidential power and Elliot Richardson who resigned rather than fire the Special Watergate Prosecutor. Their portraits hang in Eric Holder’s private office at Department of Justice. William spoke about restoring the rule of law.
William would be right at home in an FDL comment thread; he’s a hard act to follow.
Finally, Eric Holder took the pulpit. Expectations were high; the previous speakers laid a rich table for him to deliver an inspirational exhortation. Would he announce a reinvigoration of the Civil Rights Division? Talk about mortgage industry fraud and what DOJ is going to do about it? Talk about reforms in the Department? He started with a bang.
“Action is what I want to talk about today.”
AND THEN HE SCOLDED THEM. It is their fault that they don’t get ahead. It is their fault because they tolerate drug dealers and unwed mothers in their midst instead of shunning and ostracizing. He slammed rap music for the violence and misogyny of the lyrics. “A new culture is growing on our community like a cancer.” Was he referring to gangs? Hip hop culture? He didn’t specify.
“We should not treat as leaders those whose only accomplishment is success in entertainment or sports.”
He exhorted the congregants to treat teachers, clergy and the elders as leaders because they “bring infinitely more value to our lives than someone with a good jump shot.”
As chief law enforcement officer of the United States, he believes it is his duty to continue the policies that have led to the disproportionate incarceration of young black men. He seems to think that because he is a man of color, he is exempt from criticism for those policies which are racist in effect. “As a proud black man I am acutely aware of the needs of our people,” and continued on to talk about statistics showing that members of the black community are more likely to be victims of crime, so getting tough on violent crime = equals a benefit for the black community. Nine out of ten black murder victims are killed by another black person.
Then he slammed sex, saying that “more responsible social behavior among those who create children” will prevent children from becoming criminals. I guess he dozed off during the part of Paster Tuggles’ sermon where he talked about being the child of an unwed mother. It’s rude to diss a man’s mother in his own church.
“it is not enough to pray, we must act.” What action does he want? “If we return to the values of past, we can change our future.”
I swear it was as if Sean Hannity was using him as a ventriloquist dummy, with a few Reaganesque hat tips to a wholesome fantasy 1950s day on the set of “Father Knows Best.”
I don’t disagree with a message of personal responsibility. Hell, I’ve got teenagers at home; I give this lecture at least once a week myself. I even use the line he repeated several times, “‘Everbody does it’, is not an excuse.” It’s a classic.
However, the man is the Attorney General of the United States, not the national Pater Familias. It is his job to set the legal policy of the United States Government and to be its chief law enforcement officer; enforcing both criminal and civil laws. I didn’t hear anything about this in this speech; his only mentions related to law enforcement were crime statistics and letting us know that he was going to continue the policies that led to the widespread incarceration of young men of color.
He did not talk about a new anti-gang initiative, which is needed. He did not talk about the brilliant use of Safe Streets grant money to create recidivist diversion programs in Chicago, a success that could be repeated elsewhere. He didn’t announce a change in drug enforcement policy, though the DEA reports to him.
Nope, he just scolded the people that who don’t need any scolding. He scolded the people who come to church, who are upright and solid, at a church that places an emphasis on helping the children overcome the obstacles of their birth and which raises money to give out nearly $20,000 in scholarships because it views education as key to success. The people in that church, the ladies with their wonderful hats and impeccable suits don’t need to be lectured on self-respect and standards. The gentlemen, all in coats and ties, shoes polished to a fare-thee-well, don’t need to be lectured about responsibility or being a role models. These are people who walk the walk and lead by example in their community.
What they needed to hear, and did not hear, was what the Attorney General of the United States intends to do to right the wrongs committed during the Bush Administration; they did not hear what the AG intends to do to course correct the national path back towards the rule of law, nor did they hear what he intends to do to rehabilitate and reform organs of the DOJ, like the Civil Rights Division and the Voting Rights Section, which have become the opposite of what their names imply.
We do not need a national cultural scold; the FOX media conglomerate has cornered the market on that, actually glutted the market. What we, as a nation, DO need is an Attorney General with a vision for restoring our national fidelity to law, a plan to carry out that vision, and the ability to articulate that vision and plan to the rest of us.