Remarks as prepared for delivery
To the pastor and members of the Christian Cultural Center; Governor [Andrew] Cuomo; Mayor [Bill] de Blasio; distinguished guests, too many to name but joined together in grief; to the law enforcement family of New York; and most importantly to Lu-Shawn, Kennedy and Kenny:
I bring you condolences from the Department of Justice family, which shares your sorrow and your grief. I also bring you condolences from the President, which I will share with this gathering now.
[Reads letter from President Obama]
We in law enforcement have lost one of our brightest lights. We all know of Ken’s tour de force as district attorney, from his historic victory to his groundbreaking work. Ken literally changed the face of justice in Brooklyn. He made that face more inclusive, more responsive and more real. He will always be remembered, and rightly so, for that. But I will always remember Ken as he was when I first met him, some 21 years ago in 1995, when he joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York. I met this young, bright-eyed lawyer – barely out of law school, just shy of turning 30. But when you first met Ken in those days you saw more than his youth. I remember his spirit and his vitality; I remember his intensity and also his commitment to justice and to the most vulnerable among us. And I remember a smile that could light up a room and warm your heart. Ken called to mind the words of the First Book of Timothy: “Let no one despise your youth, but set an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith.” Even as a young lawyer, Ken set that example: through his tireless work ethic, through his unshakeable integrity, through his deep faith in God and his intense love for his family and friends – and, above all, through his utter devotion to the cause of justice.
Justice was very real for Ken. Although he had a brilliant legal mind, Ken saw the law as being about so much more than statutes written down in books. It was about the dignity and well-being of human beings. It was about improving individual lives. And he knew that the law meant nothing unless “the least of these” had the same protections as “the richest of these.”
Even as Ken matured as a lawyer and as a person, he never lost that spirit and enthusiasm – that commitment to his mission – that I remember from 1995. Within minutes of meeting Ken, you understood his sincere desire to do what was right. All of us in law enforcement know that when a person is most in need of justice, he is often at his most vulnerable. Ken had a rare gift for connecting with people at that difficult moment – whether it was a reluctant witness in the Abner Louima case, which we worked together; or a plaintiff who had suffered the humiliating sting of discrimination; or a wrongfully convicted individual who had all but given up hope for a second chance. For all of those and so many more, Ken Thompson was their bridge to justice. Like all lawyers, he wanted to win cases. But he didn’t want to win for winning’s sake; he wanted to win for the sake of the person whose life would be forever shaped by the verdict. He knew that justice is about so much more than the cases that you make; it is about the people that you help.
I watched with such pride Ken’s movement from idealistic young prosecutor to seasoned litigator to accomplished statesman. But when I looked at him in all those phases, I still saw the dedication and commitment, the love of the law, and the open and welcoming smile I saw all those years ago.
He is gone far too soon, and the loss of this incredibly gifted man is made even more poignant by the promise of what else he might have accomplished had he also had the gift of time.
I am certain that Ken would not have wanted us to dwell on what might have been. He made the most of the time he was given. The prophet Micah tells us, “And what does the LORD require of thee to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.”
By that measure, Ken did all that was required of him in his 50 years, and so much more. He would have been the first to say that his life’s work was not about him. He would have said that it was about others. And so it is for others – for you and me – to carry on. As we bid farewell to a devoted husband, a loving father, an exceptional public servant – to our friend – let us resolve to do just that. The years that should have been his, he bequeathed to us. He has bequeathed his time, his charge, his mission. Let us resolve to continue the work that he began. And let us renew our commitment to building the more just society that Kenneth Thompson envisioned; the more just society that was his life’s defining pursuit; the more just society that is his enduring legacy.