CBS’s O’Donnell to Loretta Lynch: Do Police Shootings Show ‘Individual Racism’ or ‘Institutional Racism’?

In the first network interview with new Attorney General Loretta Lynch for Friday’s CBS This Morning, co-host Norah O’Donnell used recent police shootings to push accusations of racism: “Your first day on the job, you were dealing with what was going on in Baltimore....I mean, we've had Ferguson, we've had Cleveland, we've had North Charleston. What's going on in this country?...is it individual racism or do you think it’s institutional racism?”

Lynch replied: “You know, I think that when you look at America and for all of its glory and all of the wonderful things that it achieves, it's clear that we still have issues involving race in this country.”

O’Donnell touted Lynch’s biography: “Loretta Lynch grew up in North Carolina surrounded by the issue of race. Her grandparents were share croppers, her father, a minister and a civil rights leader. And her mother, she says, had a backbone of steel in the segregated south.”

Moments later, O’Donnell sympathized: “I mean, even as a young lawyer you were mistaken many times for-” Lynch completed the sentence: “Oh, the court reporter. I think many a young female lawyer has had that experience, going into the deposition and people thinking that you're the court reporter.”

O’Donnell wondered: “How does that influence what you do every day?” Lynch explained: “Others will always seek to define you based on what they think you represent or who they think you are, but you have to be the one to control what you do and what you say and how you present yourself.”

O’Donnell fretted: “But you know, that's how many blacks feel, is that they're not treated as who they are, even today, by law enforcement.” Lynch observed:

Well, I think that a lot of people feel that way. I think a lot of young black people feel that way, many older black people may feel that way as well. One of the ironies of this entire debate is when I talk to police officers about their concerns, they, too, talk about how they feel that people don't see them as individuals. They see the uniform first and not a person. And when I point out, you know, that's the same thing that a lot of protesters are saying, there's often this rather – this moment of rather startled recognition that people really are saying the same thing. Everyone wants to be seen. Everyone wants to be heard. Everyone wants to be recognized as the person that they are and not a stereotype or an image.

Following the taped exchange, O’Donnell gushed:

And it's just that kind of approach that the Attorney General wants her office to take. She is trying to change the tone of how she deals with the law enforcement community and even members of Congress....You know, there's so many interesting things about her biography. Her father took her to civil rights rallies on his shoulders. He introduced her – used to take her to the courtroom in Durham, North Carolina to listen to cases.

Fellow co-host Charlie Rose chimed in: “The remarkable thing for me is how well spoken she is. I mean, you know, all of that remarkable experience, but her command of language and expression is truly stunning.” O’Donnell added: “Yeah, she's one of the best prosecutors in the country.”

Fill-in co-host Margaret Brennan fawned: “It's gonna be fascinating to watch her in office.”

O’Donnell began the segment by lamenting how long it took for Lynch to be confirmed as attorney general:

You know, this was the Attorney General's first interview since taking office just four weeks ago. Remember that Lynch faced a drawn-out battle with Congress that caused her to wait almost half a year before the Senate confirmed her. That's longer than any nominee in three decades. But once she was sworn in, she quickly made up for lost time.

However, at no point did O’Donnell raise the controversial issue at the heart of the hold up – Lynch’s support for President Obama’s executive amnesty for illegal immigrants.

Beyond the discussion of race relations and Lynch’s biography, the only other portion of the interview shown on the morning show had O’Donnell lobbing softballs about the controversial NSA surveillance program: “But if that law expires on June 1st and you don't have the ability to collect that metadata, information on every phone call in the United States, what's your biggest fear?...Do you think it makes America less safe?”

Here is a transcript of O’Donnell’s discussion with Lynch about race that aired on May 22:

8:02 AM ET

JEFF GLOR: Only on CBS This Morning, more of our conversation with Attorney General Loretta Lynch. The former U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn is the first black woman to lead the Justice Department. She spoke with Norah O'Donnell about the relationship between police and African Americans. Norah joins us again from Washington. Norah, good morning.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Lynch and the Law; New AG on Police Tension, Race & Making History]

NORAH O’DONNELL: Hey, good morning to you, Jeff. You know, this was the Attorney General's first interview since taking office just four weeks ago. Remember that Lynch faced a drawn-out battle with Congress that caused her to wait almost half a year before the Senate confirmed her. That's longer than any nominee in three decades. But once she was sworn in, she quickly made up for lost time.

[To Loretta Lynch] Your first day on the job, you were dealing with what was going on in Baltimore.

LORETTA LYNCH: Yes, yes.

O’DONNELL: I mean, within a couple of hours you had an unscheduled meeting with the President of the United States about what to do next.

LYNCH: People have asked me about that. And they’ve said, you know, “You immediately had to deal with Baltimore.” That's true, but people in Baltimore have been dealing with those issues for years.”

O’DONNELL: Not just Baltimore. I mean, we've had Ferguson, we've had Cleveland, we've had North Charleston. What's going on in this country?

LYNCH: I think what you've seen in some cities, and the resulting publicity, has highlighted instances of tension and frustration and negative relationships that have gone on for a while. And you'll talk to community leaders who will say, “We've been telling you this for years but no one was listening.” So it's hard to say whether it's a new phenomenon or we're just paying more attention to it.

O’DONNELL: But Madam Attorney General, since you're the chief law enforcement official in America, is it individual racism or do you think it’s institutional racism?

LYNCH: You know, I think that when you look at America and for all of its glory and all of the wonderful things that it achieves, it's clear that we still have issues involving race in this country.

O’DONNELL: Loretta Lynch grew up in North Carolina surrounded by the issue of race. Her grandparents were share croppers, her father, a minister and a civil rights leader. And her mother, she says, had a backbone of steel in the segregated south.

[To Lynch] I’ve read that you said she’s tougher than you are.

LYNCH: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Before we were even born, she would tell that as my dad – who would go from church to church doing revivals or meetings – would stop – they would drive, sometimes through the night or in the evenings to get to various places. And she had to stop and use the restroom and she'd go to these small rural gas stations and she just would refuse to use the colored restroom and she says she just got to a point where she just decided she wasn't going to do it anymore.

O’DONNELL: What did you learn from your mother?

LYNCH: That you can make a difference very quietly and that it's the choices that you make and the things that you're willing to accept and not accept that define who you are. For her, I don't think it was really a major moment. I think she just looked at the situation and said, “This isn’t right and I’m just not gonna do it anymore, this is not the America that I was brought up to believe in and it’s not the America that I want to raise my children in.”

O’DONNELL: Lynch went on to become her high school valedictorian. Her dream was Harvard and that's where she went. She graduated from Harvard Law and eventually became a prosecutor in New York.

[To Lynch] I mean, even as a young lawyer you were mistaken many times for-

LYNCH: Oh, the court reporter. I think many a young female lawyer has had that experience, going into the deposition and people thinking that you're the court reporter.

O’DONNELL: How does that influence what you do every day?

LYNCH: Others will always seek to define you based on what they think you represent or who they think you are, but you have to be the one to control what you do and what you say and how you present yourself. And you really can't control how others think about you.

O’DONNELL: But you know, that's how many blacks feel, is that they're not treated as who they are, even today, by law enforcement.

LYNCH: Well, I think that a lot of people feel that way. I think a lot of young black people feel that way, many older black people may feel that way as well. One of the ironies of this entire debate is when I talk to police officers about their concerns, they, too, talk about how they feel that people don't see them as individuals. They see the uniform first and not a person. And when I point out, you know, that's the same thing that a lot of protesters are saying, there's often this rather – this moment of rather startled recognition that people really are saying the same thing. Everyone wants to be seen. Everyone wants to be heard. Everyone wants to be recognized as the person that they are and not a stereotype or an image.

O’DONNELL: And it's just that kind of approach that the Attorney General wants her office to take. She is trying to change the tone of how she deals with the law enforcement community and even members of Congress. And there's one bit of experience that she has that suggests she could be very successful. We found out when we visited with her yesterday that very early in her career she actually interned for us at CBS.

CHARLIE ROSE: Well, there you go. That explains it all.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What did she do?

ROSE: That and she was from North Carolina, Norah.

O’DONNELL: I know. And from North Carolina. You know, there's so many interesting things about her biography. Her father took her to civil rights rallies on his shoulders. He introduced her – used to take her to the courtroom in Durham, North Carolina to listen to cases. You know, there’s – her brother was a Navy S.E.A.L. Her other brother a minister. Just a really interesting biography, I think, about how she is. And you can notice her tone, too. I mean, she really has a very relaxed tone and she's trying to change and work on the relationship between law enforcement and communities.

ROSE: The remarkable thing for me is how well spoken she is. I mean, you know, all of that remarkable experience, but her command of language and expression is truly stunning.

O’DONNELL: Yeah, she's one of the best prosecutors in the country.

BRENNAN: Norah, thank you. It's gonna be fascinating to watch her in office.

O’DONNELL: Thank you, guys.

NBDaily Crime Race Issues Racism CBS CBS This Morning Video Norah O'Donnell Loretta Lynch

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