U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder speaks at the Justice Department December 3, 2014 in Washington, DC. Holder spoke about the recent decision by a Staten Island grand jury not to indict a police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
After alluding to lyrics of slain rapper Tupac Shakur in a perfectly pitched response to a heckler recently, it did not seem that outgoing U.S. Attorney Eric Holder could best that talk in Atlanta, which came in the explosive aftermath of a Ferguson grand jury’s decision not to indict a White officer in the death of an unarmed Black man.
But the brave courtroom brawler returned to the national stage to drop some serious knowledge about the state of race in America. This time the discussion was about race in America, the wave of protests against police violence and President Barack Obama’s legacy during an interview with MSNBC host Joy Reid, which was published this week in New York Magazine.
While noting that young minorities should not fear the police, the outgoing attorney general said both groups have a history of deep mistrust of each other.
I don’t think that they should fear the police. But I certainly think that we have to build up a better relationship between young people, people of color, and people in law enforcement. There’s distrust that exists on both sides. There’s misunderstanding that exists on both sides. And we have to come up with ways in which we bridge those gaps, so that people don’t demonize other people; so that people understand, on both sides, that there are people trying to just do the best that they can.
We’re not at a stage yet where I can honestly say that if you’re a person of color, you should not be concerned about any interaction that you have with the police — in the same way that I can’t say to a police officer, “You shouldn’t worry about what community you are being asked to operate in.”
He also addressed the case of Amadou Diallo, a 23-year-old West African immigrant shot by police in the vestibule of his own New York City apartment building in 1999. At the time, deputy attorney general Holder issued a memorandum explaining why there was not going to be a federal prosecution of the officers who were acquitted in that killing, the report says.
When asked why the relationship between minorities and police has not progressed in a decade and a half since the Diallo shooting, Holder made a statement that might be surprising to some Whites, but not to Blacks.
It means that we, as a nation, have failed. It’s as simple as that. We have failed. We have understood that these issues have existed long before even that 2001 memorandum by that then-young deputy attorney general. These are issues that we’ve been dealing with for generations.
And it’s why we have to seize this opportunity that we now have. We have a moment in time that we can, perhaps, come up with some meaningful change. It’s what I’m committed to doing, even in the limited time I have left as attorney general. And I’ll certainly continue to do it after I leave office.
It’s what this administration is committed to. But I also feel that the nation is really ready for this kind of change. And I would hope that, 10 years from now, 12 years from now, we will not look back on this as a lost opportunity.
Holder went on to say that the Obama administration is committed to helping to foment that change. He essentially said it’s about time. He is right. Blacks have been ready for a change ever since our ancestors arrived in America bound and chained.