If U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ reference to law enforcement’s “Anglo-American” heritage was supposed to land during a speech earlier this week, it certainly missed with one person in attendance – Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings.
“The office of sheriff is a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement,” Sessions told those in attendance at the National Sheriffs’ Association Conference in Washington D.C. “We must never erode this historic office.”
on Sessions’ part, the comment thinly veiled his backwoods idealism on race relations in the U.S. Which, to no surprise, was enough to strike a nerve with Demings, who’s black, and who told the Tampa Bay Times
that Sessions’ remarks were “met with mixed applause in a mostly Anglo crowd of American sheriffs.”
“The comments were divisive and failed to acknowledge that law enforcement has been a part of American history and culture for many ethnic groups and not just Anglos,” Demings reportedly
said. “As leaders, we all have a responsibility to be careful that our words unite rather than divide, and the attorney general’s words missed the mark.”
According to a 2014 article by the Washington Post
The word “Sheriff” is a combination of the Anglo-Saxon words for “shire” (what we today call a “county”) and “reeve” (meaning “guardian”). The county guardians of Anglo-Saxon England were responsible for organizing communal defense. Often, they led the shire’s militia, as part of King Alfred’s reorganization of national defense which finally protected the nation from Danish invaders and marauders.
By the time that the American Colonies were being settled, the Office of Sheriff was declining in England, but the move across the Atlantic brought new energy and importance to the Office. The Americans restored what they considered to be the ancient Anglo-Saxon practice of popular election of Sheriffs. The Americans also strongly reaffirmed the traditional common law understanding of the Sheriff’s powers and authorities, especially the Sheriff’s autonomy and independence.
The Department of Justice offered a similar explanation today.
“Before reporters sloppily implied nefarious meaning behind the term, we would suggest that they read any number of the Supreme Court opinions that use the term,” spokesman Ian Prior reportedly said, referencing how the Supreme Court has previously used similar language. “Or they could simply put ‘Anglo-American law’ into Google.”
So we investigated the latter, and as expected, the results weren’t interesting
. Above Google’s “top stories," all of which touched on the exact same incident as this one does, it reads: “Common law, also called Anglo-American law, the body of customary law, based upon judicial decision and embodies in reports of decided cases, that has been administered by the common-law courts of England since the Middle Ages.”
Google search completed.
’s assessment, after following the detailed instructions: This isn’t England; it’s Florida. And this isn’t the Middle Ages, even if it sometimes feels that way in light of Sessions’ draconian take on the rule of law; it’s 2018. So that's that.
Sessions’ shortsightedness on topics involving race isn’t anything new, though. Long before he was the nation’s chief lawyer, Sessions was denied a federal judge post in 1986 after allegations surfaced that he had joked about the Ku Klux Klan in an admiring fashion and used derogatory language toward former colleagues.
Sessions – who's arguably the "Hank the Cowdog" of the Department of Justice – has denied the allegations.