In the aftermath of the democratic defeat in the midterm election in 2014, President Barack Obama gave us something about which we can be proud and hopeful: He appointed Mrs. Loretta Lynch as U.S. Attorney General. She is the first African-American woman appointed to the office. She follows the first African-American male to the position—that’s if the Republicans don’t block her appointment.
Mrs. Lynch is a superlatively skilled attorney. I am sure she is going to be very successful. Equally important, she is caring, friendly and racially conscious. She brings a balance of toughness and tenacity toward prosecuting criminals and compassion and empathy toward victims and the disadvantaged. Behind her quiet, unassuming demeanor is a confidence that nonetheless conspicuously shines through. She’s content to work behind the scenes and let others shine.
In the case of Abner Louima, the present Brooklyn’s District Attorney Ken Thompson related how she pushed him, a junior at the U.S. Attorney’s office, to deliver the opening statement in the famous trial. Those were turbulent times. The city was a powder keg. This act of unbelievable cruelty and dehumanization by at least two officers, who were found guilty, drew a daily packed courtroom. Because Louima was of Haitian background, there was a unity among the various cultures and peoples in the African Diaspora.
The trial started May 4, 1999. Five white police officers were charged in the case. The prosecution team stated that the officers had arrested Mr. Louima after an altercation outside a Brooklyn club and brutalized him in the car on their way to the precinct. The cruelty continued in the precinct’s bathroom, where one officer, Justin A. Volpe, penetrated Mr. Louima’s rectum with a broomstick.
Mr. Volpe and another officer, Charles Schwartz, were convicted of assault and civilrights violations. Mrs. Lynch won high praise for her hard work, patience, knowledge, and her courtroom dexterity. It is one of the few times that officers were persuaded to testify against fellow officers. Through all of the turmoil, turbulence and tension, Mrs. Lynch remained unflappable.
The last interaction I had with Mrs. Lynch was a meeting regarding Eric Garner. The Rev. Al Sharpton had led a delegation to appeal to the U.S. Attorney to take the Eric Garner case. As always, Mrs. Lynch was very cordial, friendly and helpful. I was dealing with another police killing of an unarmed Black youth named Lavon King in Jersey City, and needed entrée to her counterpart in Newark, NJ. She gladly obliged. As we made our
arguments for federal intervention, she listened patiently. While she did not make any commitments, and
we did not expect her to, we came away convinced that we could count on her to do the right thing.
Another salient point, which speaks volumes about her accessibility and wanting to engage the community, is that we already had a meeting with her assistants. At the time, she was out of the country, but she wanted to reassure us that we had her direct attention. So another meeting was arranged. I was honored to be invited to attend the history-making swearing-in ceremony in 2010 when she was appointed U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District, a position she presently holds.
There’s an old saying, and it’s surely true in Mrs. Lynch’s life: “Chips don’t fall far from the old block.” The story of her forebears is deeply moving and gives us an insight into her mind and character. Her great-great grandfather, a free Black man in North Carolina, fell in love with her great-great grandmother,
a slave. He wanted to purchase her so he could marry her, but the slave master refused to grant permission. So, he had a choice: to live free without her, or to live in slavery with
her. He chose slavery.
Her grandfather was a pastor and a sharecropper. An aspect of his ministry was to help people of African ancestry who had been falsely accused escape the segregated South. Her father, also a pastor, opened his church for civil-rights meetings. She is quoted as asking her grandmother, “Why do you have to pick cotton?” Her grandmother replied, “So, that you never have to.” Mrs. Lynch’s conscientiousness, compassion, courage and fighting spirit are in her DNA.
At the appointment ceremony in Washington, D.C., November 8, 2014, President Obama said that Mrs. Lynch was highly qualified, tough, fair and independent, and should be confirmed without delay. He said, “She has spent years in the trenches as a prosecutor, aggressively fighting terrorism, financial fraud, cyber crimes—all the while vigorously defending civil rights.” Mrs. Lynch said that if she is confirmed, she would “wake up every morning with the protection of the American people as my first thought, and I will work every day to safeguard our citizens, our liberties, our rights, and this great nation.” I urge Congress to hasten her confirmation. My prayers, along with the prayers of the decent, law-abiding citizens, go with her.