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Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke Delivers Remarks on Bloody Sunday at Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma, Alabama


Selma, AL
United States

Remarks as Delivered

Good morning! This is the day that the Lord hath made. Thank you so much, Ryan [Haygood], for all that you do to advance the cause of justice across our country. And thank you, Pastor [Leodis] Strong, for opening up this space to me and to all of us today.

Again, my name is Kristen Clarke, I’m the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and it truly is an honor to have this opportunity to address all of you in this historic place today.

I stand here this morning to let you know that 59 years after the events of Bloody Sunday, your Justice Department, the U.S. Department of Justice stands steadfast in our commitment to protect the civil rights of all those who call this great country home.

We are working tirelessly to prosecute and prevent hate crimes, which have soared to the highest levels in decades. Since January of 2021, we have charged more than 115 defendants in more than 100 cases. This includes federal hate crimes charges brought against the man responsible for the heinous murder of 10 Black people at the Tops Supermarket in Buffalo, New York. We do this work because we must honor the legacy of those massacred during the Tulsa Race Riots, because of Emmett Till, because of Medgar Evers and the four Little Girls killed in Birmingham, because of James Byrd. We prioritize this work because racially motivated, white supremacist, hate-fueled violence has no place in our society today. And we have an obligation to use the law to hold perpetrators of these crimes accountable.

Our efforts to address the unfinished business of equal justice extend to other areas as well. Indeed, one of our highest obligations is holding law enforcement officials accountable when they violate our civil rights, including the officers responsible for the deaths of Tyre Nichols, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.

We are also investigating police departments and opening pattern and practice investigations to promote constitutional policing and to address systemic violations of people’s civil rights.

And then there are our jails and prisons. And sadly, we remain the incarceration capital of the world. We are confronting head on the unconstitutional and inhumane conditions that we see inside too many of our jails and prisons. Just last week, we announced our findings regarding three Mississippi state prisons where some people are locked down in cells for 23 hours or more per day, and where severe staffing shortages have led to violence, inmate deaths and rapes by [knifepoint]. We have a duty to ensure the inherent human dignity and worth of everyone in our county. People do not surrender their civil rights at the jailhouse door.

We are taking on banks that engage in modern-day redlining because we can no longer tolerate lenders that deny Black people equal access to credit and rob communities of the opportunity to amass generational wealth. Under the leadership of Attorney General Merrick Garland, who is here with us in Selma today, we launched the Combating Redlining Initiative in the fall of 2021 and in just over two short years, we have acted against 13 banks or financial institutions and have secured over $122 million in relief for impacted communities of color.

We are fighting for environmental justice right down the road in Lowndes County, Alabama, and just last year we secured a groundbreaking settlement with the State of Alabama to ensure that all residents in Lowndes have access to safe and effective septic and wastewater management systems. Whether you are talking about lead-laced water, illegal dumping or exposure to raw sewage, we cannot tolerate this injustice in the 21st century.

And, of course, we are working hard to protect the sacred right to vote — the impetus for the March to Montgomery on that fateful day 59 years ago. The vicious attacks that the marchers endured at the bridge galvanized support for our nation’s most important federal civil rights law, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Ten days after the attacks, the bill was signed into law with ink in Washington, D.C., but we can’t forget that it was signed with blood, the blood of the foot soldiers who courageously put their lives on the line right here in Selma. This sacred law has protected access to the ballot box for Black people and communities of color, and even while we call on Congress to fully restore the Voting Rights Act, the Justice Department stands ready to use this law to confront voter suppression and voting discrimination across the country.

Yet as I stand before you today, I won’t deny the reality. The forces of hatred and bigotry are strong. Despite our resolute efforts, they lurk in the dark recesses of tainted hearts, and re-emerge in times like these. We continue to witness the acts of unspeakable hate-fueled violence and brutality; Black Americans still remain the most frequent victims of hate crimes, and we are also seeing dramatic increases of antisemitic violence, anti-Muslim violence, anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian violence, and attacks on people because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. We have seen states and localities open the floodgates of voter suppression, coming up with new pretexts and obstacles to make it harder for us, for people of color to engage in our democratic process. And far too many in this country continue to endure the legacy of racism, bigotry and white supremacy.

But it is in these moments that I remember Congressman John Lewis, who in 2015 at the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday, reminded us that, “There is still work left to be done,” and he urged all of us to “[g]et out there and push and pull, until we redeem the soul of America.”

And today, the soul of America is still not redeemed. Despite the progress that has been made, there is still much work that remains to be done. And so, we come again to Selma for renewal and inspiration. Selma reminds us that even in the darkest days and during troubling times, that we cannot give up our work. Selma reminds us that the actions taken by those courageous men and women – those foot soldiers for justice – who marched, bled and died to secure the right to vote, their efforts were not in vain. Selma reminds us that to honor their memory and their sacrifice requires us to keep our hand to the plow, to continue the fight and to continue our march.

On this day, I also think of the Apostle Paul, who told us that though “we may be troubled on every side,” we are “not distressed.” That even when “we are perplexed,” that we are nevertheless “not in despair.” That even though we may be “persecuted,” we are “not forsaken;” we may be “cast down,” but we’re “not destroyed.”

And so today, we, the collective we, rededicate ourselves to this mission. Keep pushing. Keep fighting. Keep marching. Know that the Justice Department is by your side. Thank you.

Civil Rights
Hate Crimes
Voting and Elections
Updated March 4, 2024