Who is Jeh Johnson, and Why Should Black People Be Hanging Our Heads in Shame?

By BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

The Department of Homeland Security is a secretive, lawless, largely privatized police and surveillance agency, with its own prisons and soon, its own drones. Now it's headed by a black man, a "progressive Democrat", a Morehouse man & Pentagon lawyer who invokes Dr. King as patron saint for murderous US global empire, a certifiable member of the black misleadership class.

Who is Jeh Johnson, and Why Should Black People Be Hanging Our leads in Shame?

By BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

Remember the scary Obama administration lawyer who claimed in sworn testimony before Congress in 2009 that his bosses were perfectly entitled to imprison anybody they imagined might be a terrorist even after those persons were acquitted of any and all offenses by a civilian court? That was Jeh Johnson.

Remember the well-connected administration official who justified the separate drone murders of a US citizen and his son in Yemen, declaring that the president had the right to summarily execute anybody they declared a terrorist? That was Jeh Johnson too.

Remember the wildly delusional Pentagon official who declared that if Martin Luther King were alive he would embrace the US military as our defense against terrorism in this “complicated world”? That was also Jeh Johnson.

Jeh, (pronounced “Jay”) Johnson is a former federal prosecutor, Pentagon lawyer and a Morehouse man, class of 1979, who raised more than $200,000 for Obama's 2008 campaign and was rewarded with the post of general counsel at the Pentagon. President Obama has just appointed Jeh Johnson to head his Department of Homeland Security. According to the president, Johnson has been a constant presence in the Obama situation room dealing with the ongoing threat of Al Qeda, which in plain language means that he was a regular at the president's “Terror Tuesday” meetings in the White House basement during which the chief executive and his honchos decide who to murder without accusation or trial each week, often on the basis of mere profiles.

Jeh Johnson is a Democrat, one of those they call a “progressive” because he used his leadership position at the Pentagon to champion the right of gay and transgender people to serve in the US military. That should be a comfort to Pvt. Chelsea Manning. Not.

On the face of it, Jeh Johnson is a serial killer and Constitutional scofflaw who operates from the highest levels of US government and corporate power. But he's black, and a Morehouse man, which should be enough for “progressive Democrats” members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and our larger black misleadership class, whose entire claim to legitimacy is the notion that their glittering careers somehow lift up the fortunes of entire oppressed communities of color. Of course they do not.

Fifty years ago whites were the majority in US prisons and jails, black unemployment was double that of whites, and the gentrification of black urban neighborhoods was a national problem. There were only a handful of black faces in Congress, and no black behinds in the chairs of big city mayors, state speakers of houses or presidents of senates, and the like. Now we have a thriving and empowered class of more than 10,000 black elected officials on every level --- and that's not even counting the appointed ones, the Jeh Johnsons, the Susan Rices, the Colin Powells – who wield immense power on every level from local counties to the oval office. But black unemployment is still double the white unemployment, gentrification is still a big problem, and the nation's prisons and jails are full to bursting with black bodies, far out of proportion to our numbers.

Henry Louis Gates was on TV earlier this week calling the president a “paradigm shifter.” We don't agree with Dr. Gates often, but this time he's nailed it. President Barack Obama swept into office on the delusions, eagerly sold to the American people by “progressive Democrats,” that he opposed the war in Iraq, would stand up for unions and the poor, address black unemployment, rein in polluters and banksters, and deliver universal health care and a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants. Instead, the first black president increased the military budget, tried and failed to keep the troops in Iraq, doubled down on Afghanistan, and unleashed drone wars in Africa and Asia. The first black president froze wages of federal employees and scapegoated unionized federal workers and public school teachers. The first black president quadrupled down on the Bush bankster bailout, and passed new legislation shielding mortgage fraudsters, telecom snoopers, war criminals, torturers and more. The first black president promotes gentrification, ignores black unemployment. He threw away his mandate for single payer health care and immigration reform to give us a blanket full of holes cynically misnamed the “Affordable Care Act” and deport 1.1 million people, more than any three or four previous presidents combined.

And now a black man, a Morehouse man, a certifiable member of the black misleadership class who invokes Dr. Martin Luther King as the patron saint of the US Army in Afghanistan is in charge of the Department of Homeland Security, with its private prisons, its border walls, its “fusion centers” distributing unfounded rumors, illegal surveillance data and more on citizens to local cops and private security contractors. The paradigm has indeed shifted. A black man will take charge of hounding and profiling Latino immigrants, locking them up in privatized prisons. The black misleadership class are now certifiable junior partners in the business and more important, the culture of empire. Their fortunes are as separate and distant from those of the black masses as can be imagined.  We have allowed our historic legacy as a people of struggle to be hijacked in the service of empire.

If this is where being a “progressive Democrat” leads, maybe it's time we looked in some other direction. If this is where black leadership has led us, it's time to hang our heads in shame for a minute or two, and resolve to lead ourselves in some other directions. It's time for black America to shed its black misleadership class of “progressives” and throw up some new leaders, and some new models of leadership.

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and a state committee member of the Georgia Green Party. He can be reached at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.