Remarks as Delivered:
“Good morning. My name is Breon Peace and I am the United States Attorney here in the Eastern District of New York, which covers Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and all of Long Island and is home to more than 8 million people. Welcome!
It is my honor to speak to you all today, a day that you will surely treasure for the rest of your lives. Let me be among the first to congratulate you on this wonderful milestone! I am proud to be united with you today in a bond of citizenship that transcends all racial, religious, ethnic, cultural, gender-based, political, language and economic boundaries and proud that we have found a common purpose in being called American citizens.
As the United States Attorney, I have the privilege of leading an office that is responsible for prosecuting all federal criminal cases and for handling federal civil cases in this vast district in which you live. So my job is to keep the community safe and enforce the law on behalf of the United States to improve the lives of the people of the district, particularly our most vulnerable residents.
One of the best parts of my job is being able to work on behalf of and interact with the citizens of this great district—a district that was created in 1865 by President Abraham Lincoln. This district has a long and storied history, but to me, it is perhaps best characterized by its rich and vibrant diversity. This diversity is exemplified by the people in this room. People born on continents around the globe. People of different races and religions, ethnicities and educations. People from widely disparate walks of life.
With all of these differences, how does America come together? To me, the answer is clear. We, as Americans, are united by the philosophy that all people are created equal, and with a goal to make this country better, a more perfect union.
You should have received a packet that contains the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. These documents speak to the origin of American citizenship and the country’s founding principles in establishing its democratic form of government.
The Declaration of Independence states that all men are created equal. But at the time it was drafted in 1776, neither the Declaration of Independence nor the later drafted United States Constitution recognized all people as equal. These documents, despite their central role in structuring a government of, by and for the people, did not contemplate that I, a black man and descendant of slaves, would one day be responsible for: protecting the 8.5 million residents of this district from crime; promoting civil rights, justice and equality for all; and safeguarding the very ideals of democracy and the rule of law enshrined in these documents.
Yet, we are together today as U.S. citizens. How did we move from the exclusion of the past to the welcoming inclusion reflected in the present moment?
History teaches that it took generations, as well as strength, determination and sustained, unyielding courage to ensure that the nation’s promise of equality was extended to all of its people.
A week and a half ago as we do every January, we honored Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We commemorate the day of Dr. King’s birth and his legacy with a day of service in our communities, in recognition of his unshakeable faith and unrelenting quest for human dignity and civil rights.
On August 28, 1963, Dr. King stood before the largest crowd ever gathered in support of civil rights at the Lincoln Memorial and boldly talked about his dream in the iconic “I Have A Dream” speech. Sixty years ago, he dreamed of today, where we sit shoulder-to-shoulder basking in the joy and excitement of being citizens from all walks of life, blending cultures, religions, races and gender in celebration of the promise, hope, and yes, future of democracy. In an Independence Day sermon he delivered on July 4, 1965, Dr. King spoke poignantly of this dream, saying “… America is essentially a dream. It is a dream of a land where men of all races, of all nationalities, and of all creeds, can live together as brothers. The substance of the dream is expressed in these sublime words, ‘we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’” With your sworn oath this morning, these timeless words now belong to you.
In the fight for civil rights, Dr. King identified the precursor to the American dream as the Emancipation Proclamation, which he referred to as the “offspring” of the Declaration of Independence. Although I do not intend to give a history lesson here, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1865 to end the Civil War and unify the nation. Dr. King wrote eloquently that the Emancipation Proclamation, “resurrected and restated the principle of equality upon which the founding of the nation rested.”
It could not be more fitting for us to join in pledging our allegiance to this great country in a proud district created by President Lincoln and rooted in his proclamation of freedom.
I will close with this: Dr. King, former Presidents John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama, often spoke of audacity and hope; the audacity to believe that each of us can make this country greater and stronger, and hope for a better and brighter tomorrow for all Americans.
I share the audacity and hope, and trust that you do too. In my life and career as a lawyer, and as United States Attorney today, I’ve had the audacity to believe that I could bend the “arc of the moral universe” towards justice, fairness and freedom, especially for the vulnerable and the marginalized. And that I can, “keep making our streets safer and our criminal justice system fairer – our homeland more secure, our world more peaceful and sustainable for the next generation,” as President Obama once implored.
I urge you to make today your day of audacity, your day to use the voice you’ve been given to further our democracy and give meaning to its founding principles. Each of you, have journeyed to this country, you have joined this country, you have judged its ideals your ideals. You have elected to become citizens in a land of opportunity and dreams as proud heirs of the Declaration of Independence. Hold fast to the belief that all men and women are created equal and pay it forward by bending the moral arc of this district and country towards justice, fairness, equity and inclusion. Never forget what brought you here and made you Americans.
I congratulate you once again on your becoming American citizens and welcome each and every one of you to share in our vibrant democracy.”