U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch attended the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day observance held by the National Action Network, founded by Al Sharpton – a regular on the CNN network and his nationally syndicated radio program. Lynch thanked Sharpton while praising him and his political group for being at “the vanguard of this country’s ongoing movement for progressive change through expanded equality and opportunity. Together, you have spoken out to ensure that our criminal justice system is fair and effective. You have stood up for every eligible citizen’s right to vote. And on issues as diverse as job access, corporate responsibility, education, and nonviolence, you have driven important conversations and prompted meaningful action to help create the more perfect Union to which we continue to aspire.”
Known as an advisor to President Barack Obama, Sharpton has long drawn criticism for his involvement in controversy such as the infamous Tawana Brawley hoax. Some observers criticism him as a “political radical who is to blame, in part, for the deterioration of race relations while others have called him a racial arsonist.
Lynch praised her predecessor, Eric Holder, who received an award from Sharpton.
After launching into praise for the legacy of Dr. King, Lynch paid tribute to the activism going on at the Department of Justice. She praised Vanita Gupta, who leads a “revitalized” Civil Rights Division at DOJ, who is “committed to ensuring that access to the ballot box is as fair and unencumbered as Dr. King dreamed it would be. Wherever the franchise is being diminished – whether through historical barriers or newly erected ones – we stand prepared to use every tool at our disposal to protect the sacred American right to vote. The Civil Rights Division is making significant progress bringing criminal civil rights cases, as well. Over the course of this Administration, we have filed more criminal civil rights cases and prosecuted and convicted more defendants on hate crimes charges than at any other point in the Justice Department’s history.”
Lynch also spoke about her department’s efforts to ensure fairness in the criminal justice system, lauding the “Smart on Crime” initiative that was initiated by Holder. She noted that part of the effort of stemming crime is in affording opportunities for education to the incarcerated, which “will not only reduce their likelihood of recidivism, but also throw open doors to opportunity.”
She claimed that some Americans are voicing “concerns so strikingly similar to the early days of the civil rights movement. As I travel this great nation of ours I speak to people afraid to turn to law enforcement for help and thus stranded between fear and violence.” Repeating a theme that is heard from Democrats running for the presidency, such as Hillary Clinton, Lynch says people complain that the right to vote is “becoming part of an elusive shell game and held just out of reach. I hear from those who worry that a country founded on the freedom of all religions may devolve into one diminished by a fear of some religions. And I hear the question – how far, in fact, have we actually come?”
Like other Democrats, Lynch appeared to refer to Republican candidate Donald Trump and his oft-criticized suggestion that immigration by Muslims to the United States should be limited. This was a theme that was also brought up in the January 17 Democratic debate when Sen. Bernie Sanders described Trump as a "racist" and "facist."
She repeated praise for the National Action Network, which has been among those organization most forceful in denouncing alleged abuses committed by police, particularly in black communities. “That is why it is so fitting that on a day dedicated to justice, decency and equal opportunity, we are gathered by an organization called the National Action Network – because progress is never passive. Progress does not simply arrive. Instead, in this extraordinary nation created by and for the people, it is the product of a steady drumbeat of marching feet. It is the result of a sustained campaign through hardship and oppression. As President Obama said in his final State of the Union address last week, ‘Progress is not inevitable. It is the result of choices we make together.’”
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