ABOVE: Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis
The fact that power is meant to be shared and every voice is meant to be heard is the beauty of democracy. The failure of democracy is not the system itself, but the people who we put into the system. It takes a certain type of person to be elected as a public servant and yet possess the character needed to ensure that political power will be rightfully shared with “others.” It takes a special person who can be given the honor of representing the people without falling into the trap of abusing that honor for personal or political gain.
Republican Rep. Matt Bliss of Minnesota is not that type of person. During the debate on a spending bill in the Minnesota state legislature, Bliss complained that the bill “brings us closer to a democracy, which you know, that’s not a good thing.” The bill under debate deals with funding for state and local elections, but also includes a number of election reforms –among them instituting an automatic voter system, as well as granting 17-year-olds the ability to register to vote in upcoming elections if they will be 18 by Election Day. If or when Rep. Bliss runs for re-election, will his comments regarding democracy be the reason people vote for or against him?
Elections are no longer a simple choice between individuals holding liberal versus conservative ideas. Unfortunately, local, state, and federal races between the two major parties have become a choice between those who support democracy against those who oppose it. Despite not being re-elected as president, Donald Trump still commands the Republican Party. Under his seven years of “leadership,” the party has undeniably taken a detrimental approach to democracy. It is evident in the views held by Minnesota state lawmaker Matt Bliss. We saw it with the expulsion of Tennessee state representatives Justin Jones and Justin Pearson.
In an attempt to protect the former president and his views, district attorneys have now become political targets by GOP lawmakers in addition to being targets for violence by the MAGA movement. This is particularly true for three Black top prosecutors seeking to hold the former president accountable.
It doesn’t matter to GOP lawmakers how the MAGA movement chanted “Lock Her Up” concerning Hillary Clinton, but in regard to Trump, there is no willingness to accept the findings of the judicial process. In fact, members of the judicial process are attacked with petty acts of revenge and retaliation by way of proposed legislation and Congressional subpoenas by Republicans.
There is currently a bill under review by the Georgia state legislature that would create a state-run board with the power to investigate and oust district attorneys. It creates a means for state legislators to have more control over district attorneys when things don’t go their way.
The backdrop to this pending legislation is the Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and her long-running investigation into Donald Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election. Willis is the first Black woman to lead Georgia’s largest district office, and it is hard to believe that such a state-run board will operate solely based on the will of the voters without race and political agendas becoming a factor. In response to Willis’ investigation, Trump has called her “racist” as well as a “local rogue” prosecutor who is incompetent and unable to do her job and has challenged her authority. Willis has said that she requires extensive personal security following death threats from Trump supporters.
New York Attorney General Letitia James and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, both of whom are Black, received personal attacks from Trump in similar fashions. Bragg has received more than 1,000 phone calls and emails from Trump supporters making threats and racially charged comments.
Generally, prosecutors are among the most powerful figures in the courtroom. They are the people who will decide whether to bring charges, what charges to bring, whether to negotiate a plea bargain and what the terms of the plea will be. The government does not have the resources to try every case. Very few criminal cases will ever go to trial, therefore prosecutors wield tremendous power. Prosecutors are on the front line of justice. While they represent the government in criminal cases, it is meant for them to be immune from outside influences and pressures when making critical decisions involving their cases. It is not meant for them to be totally immune from criticism, especially when it calls for true justice.
Democracy depends on prosecutors properly using their power and discretion, even when faced with the hostility from a former president and his passionate supporters.
Legal experts are sounding the alarm that former president Donald Trump’s racially charged attacks and threats against Black prosecutors investigating him could create safety threats for Black prosecutors all over the country.
“The danger of this rhetoric is that it encourages bad actors to do certain things,” said Melba Pearson, a civil rights and criminal law attorney and the former president of the National Black Prosecutors Association. “This retort of racism specifically aimed at Black prosecutors is purposeful. This is not a brand-new tactic.”
Pearson added, “It’s just part of this bigger pattern of trying to attack the messenger and discredit the process to take away the culpability you face for whatever actions that you engaged in.”
David W. Marshall is founder of the faith-based organization, TRB: The Reconciled Body, and author of the book “God Bless Our Divided America.” He can be reached at www.davidwmarshallauthor.com.