Outgoing United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch called anti-Muslim hate crimes — which have spiked since the launch of Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign in June 2015 — “a stain on our nation’s very soul” during a speech at a Virginia mosque yesterday.
“Hate crimes target more than just the individual at that time; they target the fabric of our communities,” Lynch said at the press conference, where she was joined by multi-faith leaders to address the rash of hate incidents across the nation following Trump’s election.
Lynch referenced a 67% increase in anti-Muslim acts from 2014 to 2015, adding that it was a “sobering indication of how much more work remains to be done.”
Trump campaigned on banning Muslims from entering the United States, and a number of the documented acts of hate since the election have involved his supporters attacking Muslim women, including several in his hometown of New York City.
“All of us have seen the flurry of recent news reports about alleged hate crimes and harassment,” Lynch said, “from hijabs yanked off of women’s heads; to swastikas sprayed on the sides of synagogues; to slurs and epithets hurled in classrooms.”
“Behind every number is a person,” she continued. “Behind every statistic is someone whose rights have been violated. When one of us falls, we all have to step up without regard for our own safety. When one of us is threatened, we all have to speak out.”
This is not the first time Lynch has made such a deeply personal and forceful speech in defense of marginalized communities. Last May, her speech denouncing North Carolina’s hateful HB2 — the so-called “bathroom bill” — left LGBTQ advocates in tears.
“No matter how isolated or scared you may feel today,” Lynch told LGBTQ Americans, “the Department of Justice and the entire Obama administration wants you to know that we see you; we stand with you; and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward.”
Lynch also addressed the rights of LGBTQ Americans during her speech yesterday, something Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern called “no accident”:
Lynch’s chosen successor, Sen. Jeff Sessions, is a lifelong opponent of LGBTQ rights who voted against the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. He will likely refuse to prosecute anti-LGBTQ hate crimes as attorney general; indeed, he seems poised to cut back on hate crime prosecutions altogether.
In a little over a month, Lynch will be gone from the Justice Department. But her words on Monday will remain a source of strength for tolerant Americans through the Trump era and beyond. Much like her famous transgender rights speech, Lynch’s mosque address felt instantly historic, a declaration of courageous opposition to bigotry in an political atmosphere that rewards prejudice and provincialism. Her address was quietly stunning and startlingly bold, an impassioned defense of those minorities being actively targeted by the incoming administration. Lynch did not mention Trump’s name or quote his sadistic rhetoric. She didn’t have to. In a single speech, Lynch rebuked the entire philosophy of Trump and Trumpism—and presented an alternative path forward, one rooted in equality, justice, and our shared humanity.