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Attorney General Lynch: The promised land still a long way away!

By Hazel Trice Edney
On February 1, 2016

Attorney General Loretta Lynch tells a Department of Justice audience what it would take to reach the “Promised Land.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch tells a Department of Justice audience how America must reach
"the Promised Land."

U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, giving one among thousands of speeches commemorating the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., said last week, when it comes to racial justice, America Has a “long way to go to reach the Promised Land.”

Pulling from Dr. King’s “I See the Promised Land” speech, delivered in Memphis April 3, the day before he was assassinated, Lynch – America’s chief law enforcement officer – told an audience at the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) salute to King what the DOJ is doing to bring racial progress. She called for everyone to “recommit ourselves” to do their part.

“This is all vital work and the scope and the pace of our efforts on behalf of justice and civil rights demonstrate how far we’ve come in the last half-century.  But it is clear, even now, that we still have a long way to go to reach the promised land that Dr. King described,” said Lynch. “And that every one of us must be committed to do our part.  After all, as Dr. King knew well – and as all of you here in this room understand – there is nothing inevitable about progress. There is nothing foreordained about our advancement.”

Honoring Dr. King, Lynch listed actions by the Justice Department, dating back to the beginning of the Obama administration, that have been aimed to further Dr. King’s vision for justice. She said:

1. We are vigorously defending every citizen’s right to vote, using every legal tool available to us to enforce the Voting Rights Act in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County.
2. Since 2009, our Civil Rights Division has filed more criminal civil rights cases and prosecuted and convicted more defendants on hate crimes charges, than at any other point in the department’s history.
3. We’re working to ensure civil rights in criminal justice, in part by promoting trust and strengthening relationships between law enforcement and the communities we serve.
4. We’re playing a leading role in this administration’s drive to reform our criminal justice system, especially through our ongoing work to reduce recidivism and improve reentry outcomes.
5. We’ve joined with the Departments of Education, Labor and Housing and Urban Development to launch innovative programs in a number of areas, from making Pell grants available to some incarcerated individuals to helping local jurisdictions with record-cleaning and expungement, so that every American returning home has the chance to contribute to their communities and make a new life for themselves.

But, the DOJ is only building on the successes of others, Lynch pointed out. A guest of the attorney general and stalwart in the Freedom Riders and SNCC, civil rights pillar Dorie Ann Ladner –  who helped to organize the March on Washington and marched from Selma to Montgomery – looked on as she spoke.

She concluded that in order to truly honor the legacy of King all year long, their example must be followed by never giving up until the “Promised Land” is realized.

“We must recognize that their words and their deeds are not relics of history, but living challenges – calls to action that still echo in our hearts, urging us to continue their journey, to extend their cause and to realize their vision of a more just society – and a more beloved community,” said Lynch. “His challenge – a challenge to a nation to live up to its defining principles – still echoes today. Indeed, it is the challenge of every generation to realize that the price of freedom is constant vigilance; to understand that while we cannot erase every dark prejudice from the heart of man, we can work to ensure that the angels of our better selves win the day.”

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