By Samaria Bailey
Special to the NNPA from the Philadelphia Tribune
PHILADELPHIA – U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch pushed the NAACP to keep fighting for equality in education, economics and the criminal justice system, in her speech at the organization’s Freedom Fund/Thalheimer Awards ceremony on Wednesday evening in Philadelphia.
It was another first for Lynch, who is the first African-American woman to hold the office of Attorney General, to attend a national NAACP convention.
The awards presentation was the last event of the organization’s 106th annual convention.
“Your success is legendary,” Lynch told the attendees. “[But] there is so much more to do. Our work is not finished.”
She reviewed achievements under President Barack Obama’s administration as evidence that some progress is being made.
One of those achievements was the Supreme Court’s recognition of “disparate impact” in the Federal Housing Act. With the court’s decision to uphold disparate impact, claims of racial discrimination in housing practices are not restricted to showing intent.
“[This] will enable us to fight on,” Lynch said. “We know discrimination nowadays is hidden underground … in the application process.”
She also praised Obama’s position to ease mandatory sentencing for non-violent drug crimes.
“I commend the president for his action this week to commute the unduly long sentences of 46 individuals, the vast majority of whom were convicted of relatively minor drug crimes – a striking illustration of the unfairness in some of our sentencing laws – and I welcome his charge to reexamine the use of solitary confinement as a form of incarceration,” she said.
Two days ago, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a separate organization, issued statements that it requested Lynch to “open an investigation of the North Charleston Police Department to uncover any pattern or practice of racially discriminatory policing” and that the Justice Department “open a criminal civil rights investigation into former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager for the April 4, 2015 shooting death of Walter Scott, an unarmed African-American man.”
However, Lynch did not mention the wave of killings of unarmed Black men by White police, this past year.
Instead, she stated that efforts would be made by the government to encourage “fairness” and limited her comments on policing in communities to engaging youth.
“I also look forward to working with Congress to advance a broader reform effort on the federal level and building on the bipartisan support we’ve seen around the country for making our criminal justice system more efficient, more effective and more fair,” she said, adding “We need children – particularly children of color – to turn towards the law enforcement officers in their neighborhoods; to view them as partners, helpers and members of the community; and to aspire to become guardians themselves.”
Lynch said reforming the nation’s criminal justice is a difficult task.
“The road ahead will not be easy – it never has been,” she said. “We will face difficult times – we always have. But the beauty of America, the glory of America and the history of America tells us that many of our greatest accomplishments in civil rights, in human rights, come after some of our darkest days.”