Loretta Lynch sees parallels in "televising of the police dogs and the fire hoses" of 1960s
Lynch's Justice Department has been aggressive in launching probes of police forces
She says videos show what many minority communities have talked about for years
Amanpour’s full interview with Loretta Lynch airs 2pm ET, 8pm CET on CNN International.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch tells CNN that “we’re at a point now similar to 50 years ago with the civil rights movement,” owing to the rising visibility of police misconduct and the discussion it is provokes.
“The televising of the police dogs and the fire hoses on young people then was a motivating factor and wake-up call really for people within the U.S. and outside the U.S. to really face the issues of racial unrest in America,” she told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Friday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
“Similarly we’re at a situation where viewing these videos, viewing these incidents of misconduct, of deaths occurring – hard as they are to see – is giving an opportunity to talk about this. And frankly, it’s giving law enforcement the opportunity to step forward, to be accountable and talk about what is and is not effective policing.”
Lynch has made reform of America’s police one of her signature goals as the country’s chief law enforcement official – a position she’s held less than a year.
Her office has been aggressive in launching investigations against police forces that make international news with seemingly wayward tactics.
Last month, the U.S. Justice Department announced it would investigate the Chicago Police Department, a move that came two weeks after police released dashcam video of an officer shooting to death 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Reports released by the city of Chicago indicated the video contradicted elements of the police’s previous account of what had happened.
“A lot of the things that are talk about are visible today because, quite frankly, we have visibility into situations that we didn’t always have – the witness with the cell phone, the security camera,” Lynch said.
The rising documentation of controversial incidents – rather than an increase in these situations themselves – is what’s significant, she told Amanpour.
“I think if you talk to people who live in communities that deal with these issues all the time, they will say to you that what these videos are showing us now is what people in many minority communities have been talking about for years, and what they’ve been describing for years, but they haven’t been believed,” Lynch said.
“They have been dismissed, mainly because people don’t want to believe that law enforcement can overstep. And of course, it’s not every law enforcement officer. But when it happens, the impact that it has, the gash that it leaves, in the web of trust that we need in order for everyone to feel safe, is tremendous. And so that’s why these incidents resonate so deeply.”
The Justice Department also investigated the Ferguson, Missouri, police and found a “pattern and practice” of discrimination. The fatal shooting there of 18-year-old Michael Brown in 2014 galvanized the Black Lives Matter movement in America. The police officer involved, Darren Wilson, was not charged in the case, and the Justice Department cleared him of wrongdoing.
Lynch said being an African-American and longtime federal prosecutor leaves her uniquely positioned to understand the problem and how to fix it.
“I’ve worked with police, I’ve worked with agents. I’ve also worked with communities who have dealt with these issues over the years that I’ve been involved in law enforcement,” she said.
“It can be done. It takes commitment from both sides.
“Law enforcement has to be willing to examine its actions, its role in these events, the type of training that goes on, and frankly impose a level of first-line accountability that everyone expects from people with the type of power and responsibility that we in law enforcement have.”