“A Choice Not to Deal with Original Sin”

Speaking at Harvard Law School’s 2022 Class Day ceremonies on Wednesday, May 25, former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch ’81, J.D. ’84, said that justice—the fight for freedom—is something each generation must defend. She reminded the audience that exactly two years ago to the day, George Floyd had “lost his life under the knee of a uniformed Minneapolis police officer. It was a shocking crime,” she said, “a senseless tragedy. It did not have to happen. And for those of us who have worked on police reform over the years it stood as a literal rebuke to all of our efforts.” Lynch, who has spent her career defending civil rights, no doubt felt the rebuke viscerally: she was a member of the trial team whose work in the late 1990s led to the conviction of New York City police officers for the assault, torture, and rape of Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant. “I know that many of us struggle to make sense of a legal system where the ultimate symbol of protection to so many,” she said, “is also an inherent symbol of fear to so many others.” A former federal prosecutor who became the first black woman to lead the Department of Justice, from 2015 to 2017, Lynch described the “equally shocking and unnecessary deaths of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery” as “a choice…not to deal with the original sin: the systemic racism woven into the fabric of our society.” “But something happened” after George Floyd’s death, she continued. “As people marched and spoke, they were joined by a broad swath of humanity, both in this country and around the world. We actually came together in an epiphany of understanding and empathy that began to fuel what we hoped was systemic change. And we saw the possibility of change that recognized the costs of pernicious racism, not just to its immediate victims, but to all of us. And we began to explore…why we continue to let a distinction without a difference repeatedly tear us apart.”