Early Speeches of Loretta Lynch, Obama’s Attorney General Nomination, Reveal her Passion for Racial Justice

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The Harvard Law School graduate comes across as ardent about her work as a prosecutor, social justice and trying to address racial disparities, especially in policing.

Federal prosecutor Loretta Lynch stood before a Baptist church congregation and criticized a “morally lost” society where minorities were taking to the streets to protest injustice and police violence.

“There is a poverty of spirit afflicting America that is crippling it,” she said. “Los Angeles has been burning for a long time, but no one noticed it. New York City is burning right now. Chicago is burning. Atlanta is burning.”

“No one notices until the fire inside builds and strikes an outer match,” she added, “and the flames rise above the skyline.”

Lynch, President Barack Obama’s nominee to be U.S. attorney general, didn’t deliver those words after the recent unrest over the deaths of black men at the hands of white police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, or New York. She was speaking in 1992 in South Carolina after Los Angeles was rocked by riots over the acquittal of policemen in the beating of another black man, Rodney King.

In the years since, Lynch has tempered her words as she has risen up the law-enforcement hierarchy to become the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn. But her early speeches reveal a prosecutor passionate about racial justice and other social issues who believes the government must address discrimination.

“She hasn’t lost the social vision, or her passion for justice, or believing in what is right,” said her father, Lorenzo Lynch, an 82-year-old retired pastor in North Carolina. “She has matured in the way she puts things. But she will keep the discussion going.”

Supporters say that makes her uniquely qualified to lead the Justice Department amid the fallout over the latest deadly incidents involving black men and police. Beyond pledging a “fair and thorough” investigation into the death of Eric Garner in New York that her office is leading, Lynch hasn’t spoken of the protests or underlying issues that sparked them.

Hearings Loom

The 1992 speech was one of more than 75 provided by the White House to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will hold hearings on Lynch’s nomination next week, and reviewed by Bloomberg News. The speeches span more than 600 pages and begin with the address to a Woman’s Day program in Greenville, South Carolina, when Lynch was a 33-year-old prosecutor in Brooklyn.

They paint a portrait of a North Carolina native, the first black woman to be nominated for attorney general, who was inspired by her parents and siblings to enter public service.

Particularly in her early speeches, the Harvard Law School graduate comes across as ardent about her work as a prosecutor, social justice and trying to address racial disparities, especially in policing.

Private Practice

Lynch, 55, who spent eight years in private practice before being tapped a second time to be U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, often described the conflicted relationship the black community has with law enforcement, especially African-Americans who wear badges.

In 2000, after having been nominated to her first stint as U.S. attorney, Lynch spoke of how black police officers and prosecutors “often face a dual challenge — trying to improve a system that traditionally was one of the harshest to us.”

If confirmed by the Senate, she’ll succeed Attorney General Eric Holder, an Obama confidant who has often waded into matters of civil rights, policing, voting rights, and racial disparities in sentencing. In 2009, he even called the U.S. a “nation of cowards” on race.

Lynch never went that far in her public addresses, but she came close.

In her June 1992 speech at the South Carolina church, she forcefully criticized the nation for the way it addressed poverty and the first Gulf War.

Helping Children

“A society that takes away hundreds of thousands of jobs, and then blames people for not working, is morally lost,” she said. “A society that drops everything to save Kuwait, but barely lifts a finger to help the 13 million American children living in poverty in this country is sending the moral message that those children are not important, that they don’t matter. And if our society tells people that they don’t matter, how can we expect people to act like anything matters?”

Though she was the second black U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Lynch saw her ascension as historic in a 2000 speech: “I took office last summer, and as I did I am sure that a long line of dead white men rolled over in their graves. But at the same time, I am sure that just a stone’s throw away from here, in the African burial ground, a long line of people for whom the law was an instrument of oppression, sat up and smiled.”

Tone Softens

As time wore on, she softened her tone. In 2011, she focused a Black History Month address on why African-Americans fought in the Civil War, saying, “We can be no less brave in fulfilling our roles in today’s society,”

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SOURCE: Bloomberg – Del Wilber