Six protesters from the NAACP, including the organization’s national president, were arrested Tuesday night after holding a sit-in at the Mobile, Ala., office of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Donald Trump’s attorney general nominee.
Since the president-elect announced his pick in November, Democrats and many civil rights groups have objected to the senator’s nomination, citing racially insensitive comments Sessions made early in his career as evidence that he is not fit to serve as the country’s top law enforcement officer.
Trump, Sessions and most Republicans have repeatedly dismissed those claims, denying that the senator is racially prejudiced.
When protesters from the NAACP arrived in Mobile on Tuesday afternoon, they said on social media that they planned to “occupy” Sessions’s office until he was no longer the nominee — or until they were arrested.
“We are asking the senator to withdraw his name for consideration as attorney general or for the president-elect, Donald Trump, to withdraw the nomination,” NAACP President Cornell William Brooks said, according to CNN. A series of Facebook Live videos posted by the NAACP showed the group quietly sitting on the floor of a small room, dressed in business attire and looking at their phones.
Around 7:30 p.m., about a half-dozen police officers arrived and faced the protesters, standing still. In one video, Brooks was seen standing up and introducing himself to the officers, shaking their hands.
“We are here; we are all well aware of the laws of trespass,” Brooks said. “We are engaging in a voluntary act of civil disobedience. We try to conduct ourselves in a peaceful manner, a nonviolent manner.”
He assured the officers they would leave Sessions’s office as they found it and thanked the staff for their hospitality. “We are in fact going to be arrested,” Brooks said a short while later, as the protesters began handing their IDs to the officers.
Before being led out of the office, the group knelt down to pray.
“Eternal God, we thank you for this opportunity to serve you,” they said. “Thank you for the ability to push this nation closer to its moral center. Thank you for the opportunity in the NAACP for standing up for the voices for those who are marginalized, for those who have been left out, for those who have been cast out on the side.”
The protesters — five men and one woman — face charges of second-degree criminal trespass, according to the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office. They were arrested shortly before 8 p.m. local time and released from jail around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, a sheriff’s spokeswoman said.
The NAACP identified the arrested protesters as Brooks, Devon Crawford, Stephen A. Green, Joe Keffer, Lizzetta McConnell and Bernard Simelton. Most serve in leadership roles for the organization on the local, state or national level.
Overnight, Brooks posted the group’s mug shots several times on his Twitter account. “After the @jeffsessions sit-in, these mug shots aren’t pretty but they’re pictures of @NAACP determination. #RestoreTheVRA & #stopsessions,” read one tweet.
Trump announced on Nov. 18 that he planned to nominate Sessions as attorney general, making him one of the president-elect’s earliest Cabinet choices. “Jeff is greatly admired by legal scholars and virtually everyone who knows him,” Trump said in a statement then.
While Republicans cheered the announcement, Democrats and civil rights groups — including the NAACP — protested almost immediately. Many cited comments Sessions made early in his career, which have dogged him in the decades since.
In 1986, the then-39-year-old Sessions was nominated to serve as a federal judge in President Ronald Reagan’s administration. As The Washington Post’s Amber Phillips reported in November:
The accusations mostly came from (but were not limited to) Sessions’s former deputy, Thomas Figures. He sent a letter to the Senate and reporters claiming his boss said insensitive things about black people, at times directly to him.
Figures, who is black, said Sessions told him to be careful about what he said “to white folks” after Figures got into a heated argument with a white colleague. And Figures testified Sessions called him “boy” on multiple occasions.
Figures also said Sessions had joked about the Ku Klux Klan, saying he thought its members were “okay, until he learned that they smoked marijuana.”
A Justice Department lawyer, J. Gerald Hebert, testified that Sessions had described the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union as “un-American” and “Communist-inspired.”
The Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee ultimately rejected Sessions’s nomination in a 10-8 vote.
Sessions has denied that he holds any racial prejudice and once described the accusations against him as “heartbreaking.” Since the 1986 rejection, however, he continued a successful legal and political career, and remains a popular senator in Alabama.
More than three decades later, the same Senate committee will hold confirmation hearings for Sessions on Jan. 10 and 11.
The NAACP’s protest came on the same day a group of more than 1,100 law school professors from across the country sent a letter to Congress urging the Senate to reject the nomination of Sessions. As of Wednesday morning, the letter was signed by professors from 176 law schools in 49 states — all except Alaska, which has no law school.
“We are convinced that Jeff Sessions will not fairly enforce our nation’s laws and promote justice and equality in the United States,” stated the letter, signed by prominent legal scholars including Laurence H. Tribe of Harvard Law School, Geoffrey R. Stone of the University of Chicago Law School, Pamela S. Karlan of Stanford Law School and Erwin Chemerinsky of the University of California at Irvine School of Law.
The signatories said some of them had concerns about Sessions’s “misguided prosecution of three civil rights activists for voter fraud in Alabama in 1985, and his consistent promotion of the myth of voter-impersonation fraud.” They cited an array of other concerns, including Sessions’s support for a border wall and for drug policies that fueled mass incarceration and his skepticism about climate change.
The law professors also highlighted Sessions’s rejection from a federal judgeship 30 years ago. “Nothing in Senator Sessions’ public life since 1986 has convinced us that he is a different man than the 39-year-old attorney who was deemed too racially insensitive to be a federal district court judge,” the letter read.
Sari Horwitz contributed to this article.