By Rosaland Tyler
Andrew Shannon, who heads the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of the Peninsula, has encountered widespread criticism after he drove to the nation’s capital with a delegation, and presented a proclamation to U. S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Shannon said he drove to D.C., aiming to recycle the teachings of the Rev. Dr. Martin L. King Jr., but his critics have questioned the meeting. An article in the Richmond Free Press, for example, said the meeting has “sent shockwaves through the civil rights community.”
The Richmond African-American newspaper said the meeting “created alarm among the NAACP and other civil rights groups because it appears to signal a major pullback from the Obama administration’s past efforts to ride herd on an array of police departments notorious for mistreating African-Americans, ranging from Baltimore to Cleveland, Chicago and Los Angeles.”
But Shannon said he aimed to highlight the 49th celebration of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin L. King Jr., during the 45-minute meeting. Shannon visited the attorney general’s office with his wife, Newport News City Councilwoman Lisha Bryant-Shannon, who is also the deputy director of OHA. They were accompanied by the president of the Virginia SCLC Rev. William Keen of Danville.
Also in the delegation were SCLC York County Supervisor Chad Green; York-Poquoson Sheriff J.D. Diggs; and Dean Nelson, national chairman of the Frederick Douglass Foundation.
“I am recycling Dr. King’s strategies because they were effective,” Shannon said in a recent phone interview with the New Journal and Guide. Shannon also serves as state SCLC vice president.
“Our rationale is that we are a civil rights organization – so we have civil rights cases in many different areas,” Shannon said pointing to how Dr. King had a habit of working with diverse types to resolve issues.
“If you are involved in civil rights today and the person who is the leader of law enforcement agencies such as the FBI and others, oversees the portfolio, it’s important that we have not only have a seat – but a voice at the table,” Shannon said.
“The SCLC is the voice for the voiceless,” Shannon added. “We get a lot of calls on various issues. There are many discussions about criminal justice, police misconduct and public corruption which we don’t believe just start or stop in Norfolk. So, if we want an investigation to proceed in our area, who do we need talk to? I think we want our cases to be heard by the highest office in the country.”
In short, this is why Shannon said he drove to D.C., and makes no apologies for his recent trip to Sessions’ office nor the proclamation presented by his delegation to the Attorney General for his work on behalf of civil rights and his “dedication and service to humanity.”
“I am recycling Dr. King’s strategies because they were effective,” he said. “Dr. King led the charge on the 1965 Voting Rights Act and on the 1965 Civil Rights Act that Congress passed. Dr. King helped us to pass these things. He used communication. He talked to people. He got involved with others. He did not isolate himself from the rest of the world. Instead, Dr. King rolled up his sleeves and made contact with others. Dr. King knew that in order to get some resolution he had to first of all have some sort of communication with the parties involved.”
Rev. Rodney Hunter, president of the Richmond SCLC, disagreed with his colleagues. “I am in total disagreement,” Hunter said when interviewed by the Richmond Free Press. “The attorney general’s record speaks for itself, and I haven’t seen any changes in his attitude since he took office. There has been no repentance or attempt at reconciliation. I haven’t seen anything that shows me that he is seeking change on justice issues or race relations.”
On its editorial page, the Richmond newspaper said, “We have no quarrel with Rev. Keen and Mr. Shannon meeting with Mr. Sessions. But what promises or payments were made for them to present Mr. Sessions with such a proclamation?
“We don’t need our leaders to make Stepin Fetchit moves. We need men and women of substance and backbone who can meet our detractors on our own terms.”
During Session’s confirmation hearings, it was noted that he opposed restoring the Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court gutted portions of it in 2013. Those who sought to halt his nomination also noted that he refused to support equal pay for women and opposed reauthorizing the Violence Against Women’s Act.