Yara Shahidi – Teen Vogue – Interview with U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch
Whether as a young prosecutor or the attorney general of the United States — a role she’s held since last year — Loretta Lynch has always made it a priority to fight for the underrepresented. That’s one of the reasons Yara Shahidi, 16, who plays the teen daughter of two affluent African-Americans on the ABC comedy Black-ish, describes interviewing Lynch, our nation’s chief law enforcement officer, as a “dream.”
“She cares about the things that matter to my generation,” Yara says, referring to the 57-year-old’s work on police brutality and the ongoing LGBTQ struggle for equality. When the two get on the phone — one in Los Angeles, the other in Washington, D.C. — they leapfrog over the small talk and move directly to the heavyweight issues affecting our country today, and both of them personally.
Yara Shahidi: Who would you say inspired you most as a child?
Loretta Lynch: I remember watching the Democratic Convention in the mid-’70s with my parents, when Texas Congresswoman Barbara Jordan was the first black woman to give the keynote address. She proudly said, “Here I am.” It clicked for me what my parents sometimes discussed about integration and the civil rights movement, and how some of us were on the outside of this glass wall with our noses pressed up.
YS: Did that ultimately influence you to pursue a career in law?
LL: For me it’s always been about trying to make the most important contribution I can, wherever I’ve been. We’re in a country committed to the highest ideals for human beings — equal justice under the law — but that is something we work at every day, and it’s often very individual work.
YS: Throughout your career, you’ve always held people in power accountable. For example, you chose to bring charges against the police officers who brutally assaulted a Haitian immigrant, Abner Louima, in New York City in 1997.
LL: Government is supposed to be of the people, by the people, and for the people, and the goal of law enforcement is to protect individuals. The Louima case represented one of the clearest instances of the government taking the wrong path. It was a challenging case, but all of us [in the government] had to be held accountable. And I’m still working on these police issues today.
YS: Yes, you launched a community policing tour as attorney general. Are you achieving what you’d hoped for?
LL: Yes, I’ve seen some real change and positive things develop. I’ve been working on connecting police officers to their communities and keeping people safe since I’ve been in law enforcement. The day I was sworn in [as attorney general], riots broke out in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody. So I felt as if we needed to highlight this issue in a way that not only acknowledges the problem but also says we’re doing something about it.
YS: What has ignited the Black Lives Matter movement so powerfully, since police brutality isn’t a new issue?
LL: The fact that people can now see on video what so many, particularly in minority communities, have been talking about for so long has allowed us to have conversations in a meaningful way — and for things to be handled much differently. When Louima happened, there was no recording of it, and we had so much resistance from everyone who said, “I can’t believe police would do this to someone.”
YS: Moving on to another case that’s quite influential: You’re countersuing your home state of North Carolina over House Bill 2 [which restricts protections of the LGBTQ community]. Why is fighting that law important to you?
LL: American society is becoming more inclusive, but with that you often see a backlash and people resistant to change or acting out of fear — HB2 represents that. The law operates in a way that discriminates against transgender individuals as they make their way through the world. What history has taught us is that when we react out of fear and discrimination, we hurt everyone. It’s very important for the Department of Justice to make it clear that when it comes to equality and protection of the American people, it’s for everyone.
YS: Oftentimes the LGBTQ movement mirrors the civil rights movement; how can my peers and I Help transgender youth or others who are being discriminated against?
LL: Your voice is powerful. If we don’t protect the most vulnerable and make it clear that it’s unacceptable to stigmatize people, then we’re not living up to the best of America. The issues presented by the transgender struggle mirror the civil rights movement because they are the civil rights movement. It’s not limited to one race or one issue — it’s about freedom and equality for everyone.