PINE BLUFF -- Former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch encouraged students at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff on Thursday to "raise your voices" in response to the nation's shifting political climate and leaders in Washington who "have lost their minds."
Lynch, the first black woman to serve as the nation's chief law enforcement officer, made her first trip to Arkansas and the state's only public historically black university.
Her speech quickly turned toward the political, touching on anti-immigrant sentiments, new barriers to voting and the everyday harassment of blacks caught on cellphone cameras, which she described as a rebirth of problems confronted by previous generations.
"We have some issues for you to work on," Lynch said. "It has always been the youth of this country, whether it was the civil-rights movement, whether it was Black Lives Matter or Me Too, it's always been youth who have dared to stand up and say, 'We're not going to stand for this anymore.' And the organization then gets built around youth."
In one experience she recounted for the audience, Lynch recalled working as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York in the 1990s when a subordinate who didn't recognize her alerted colleagues to a "suspicious" looking person in the office.
"You can add prosecuting-while-black to the list," she said.
As she recounted slights and policies enacted at the expense of black Americans in generations past -- and asking if they "sounded familiar" -- Lynch was met with affirmative murmurs and cheers from the crowd of college students, including a contingent from the Delta Sigma Theta sorority dressed in red shirts and sitting in the front rows. Lynch was a member of that sorority at Harvard University in Massachusetts.
Though she never mentioned President Donald Trump by name, she invoked his administration by recounting recent news stories. She said that racial bias lurked behind the current administration's efforts to undo policies enacted by President Barack Obama, her former boss.
"Don't ever doubt that is the root of what's going on today," Lynch said.
Lynch specifically pointed to anger at black athletes protesting during the national anthem -- "just the picture of it sends them over the edge" -- and a reversal by the Justice Department under her successor, Jeff Sessions, to support laws requiring voter ID at the polls, which critics say disproportionately harm minority-group voters.
"Why? Because our votes are so powerful," Lynch said of the reasoning behind such laws.
Lynch did not address Trump's Twitter musings about the effectiveness of Sessions, his attorney general, or his desire to see the investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 election shut down.
During a question-and-answer session, she was asked about immigration policy -- she said it had descended into jingoism "and slogans and catchphrases" -- and the war on drugs.
Responding to the latter, she said that as a narcotics prosecutor earlier in her career, she and her bosses had realized that harsh sentences for minor drug offenses were unfair and ineffectual, but prompted by fears during the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s. She added that she worries that rising fears about the current opioid epidemic were bringing about a return of such policies.
"When people legislate based on fear, they often do not make good decisions," she said.
To confront those changes, Lynch urged the students to write their congressman, opinion pieces to run opposite editorial pages, and books. She also urged them to get involved in public service. Most of all, she told the audience to vote and encourage others do so as well.
Outside the auditorium, departing students passed a booth set up to register voters.
Metro on 09/07/2018
Print Headline: 'Raise your voices,' ex-AG urges students at UAPB talk