Former Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday that he worries some Obama administration criminal justice reforms could be in jeopardy under President Donald Trump.
Holder commented during a panel discussion on race at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library in Atlanta.
When Holder and the other panelists entered the room a surprise guest walked in with them: recently ousted Acting Attorney General Sally Yates. As Holder held his hand over her head, the crowd cheered loudly and gave Yates a standing ovation as she took her seat in the front row.
Yates, an Atlanta native and former U.S. Attorney in Atlanta, was fired by Trump last month after she declined to defend his executive order banning refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority nations.
Holder, the first black U.S. attorney general, served under President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2015. The Obama administration implemented policies meant to narrow the gap between minorities and law enforcement, he said.
"I worry that unless these policies that we put in place and this way of viewing law enforcement continue, that that gap will widen. We'll go back to the old ways that are counterproductive, that are inefficient," Holder said.
The Obama administration tried to be smart on crime rather than simply being tough on crime, he said, adding that it would be a step backward to return to reliance on over-incarceration to deal with problems rooted in social dysfunction.
"I worry about where the new administration is going," Holder said.
Holder also urged people to engage with Trump's administration, to make their voices heard.
"There's a real power that we should not forget. As American citizens, there's a real power in being in the streets, in protesting, in making our voices heard, being on camera and being seen in a way that millions of people were in that march that day after the inauguration," he said. "There is a huge, huge power there, a huge check on executive branch power."
The event was co-sponsored by The Miller Center at the University of Virginia.
When moderator Pulitzer Prize winner Douglas Blackmon asked panelists a question from an audience member about what the average person can do, Holder drew on a prior audience suggestion that Yates run for office.
"I think you need to support the Holder-Yates ticket in 2020," he quipped, drawing laughter and another standing ovation from the audience and a shout from one woman who said, "It should be Yates-Holder."