For the first time in history, three African Americans selected by President Barack Obama could simultaneously manage high-level federal operations that shape national and global law enforcement policies while also protecting America against terrorists.
It’s no coincidence – and it’s a rare moment in the nation’s history.
Obama has carefully assembled a qualified team of black senior advisors, all Cabinet members, who have wide-ranging expertise in law enforcement, national security issues, and counter-terrorism.
Susan Rice, the U.S. National Security Advisor, reports directly to the president on precarious global matters that impact America. Rice is the third African American to hold the post.
Eric Holder, the first African American U.S. Attorney General and the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, oversees the U.S. Department of Justice.
And Obama recently appointed Jeh Johnson, formerly the Pentagon’s top lawyer, to head the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Johnson would become the first African American to lead the Department of Homeland Security.
Johnson would succeed Janet Napolitano, who announced she was leaving the Cabinet post in July. Political insiders say they expect Johnson to be confirmed, but Republicans may try to rough him up during his confirmation hearings.
The president’s decision to hire three black specialists to oversee national civil rights issues, counter-terrorism strategy and matters relating to national security shows that Obama, the nation’s first black president, is committed to empowering black people to lead America’s most security-sensitive agencies and operations.
Protecting the nation, Obama supporters say, also keeps black Americans safe.
Obama’s inner-circle selections also signals to his critics that the president is serious about making his Cabinet racially diverse with black advisors who are, in part, responsible for keeping the nation safe.
Meanwhile, Obama called Jeh Johnson a “cool and calm leader.”
“Jeh is respected across our government as a team player,” Obama said during remarks at the White House last month. “He is someone who knows how to get folks who don’t always agree to work towards a common goal.”
Johnson, who left the Pentagon last year to return to New York law firm Paul Weiss, said he was not seeking to return back to public service but that “when I received the call, I could not refuse it.”
In the Obama administration, Johnson was heavily involved in many sensitive policy issues, including the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and developing an approach for killing terrorism suspects abroad.
“I am a New Yorker, and I was present in Manhattan on 9/11, which happens to be my birthday,” Johnson said. “When that bright and beautiful day was shattered by the largest terrorist attack on our homeland in history, I wandered the streets of New York and asked ‘What can I do?’ Since then, I have tried to devote myself to answering that question.”
Some of Obama’s frequent black critics say the president has not done enough for African Americans but, in fact, black Americans benefit greatly from Obama’s policies.
On Wednesday, for example, Attorney General Holder announced $6.7 million in grants to state and local criminal and civil legal services groups that provide legal defense for the poor, which also includes numerous black folks across the country.
The grants from the Office of Justice Programs are part of the Justice Department’s efforts to improve indigent defense, which is often underfunded and understaffed.
“Everyone accused of a serious crime has the right to legal representation – even if she or he cannot afford it,” Holder said. “In recent years, the Department of Justice has made a commitment to improving the delivery, quality and availability of legal services for everyone in our country, including the very poor. Today’s significant grant awards will help ensure America’s criminal justice system is fair for every defendant, regardless of wealth.”
Moving forward, Holder, Rice and Johnson, if he is confirmed, will simultaneously lead key U.S. national and international law enforcement operations and, as African Americans, will make history in the process.