United States Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch says law enforcement in the United States has lost one of the “brightest lights” in Brooklyn’s first African American District Attorney, Kenneth Thompson.
Thompson, who was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in the spring, died two Sundays ago — five days after publicly announcing that he was taking a leave of absence to fight the disease. He was 50.
In her eulogy, read at the funeral service on Saturday, at the expansive Christian Cultural Center in East New York, Lynch said Thompson literally changed the face of justice in Brooklyn.
“He made that face more inclusive, more responsive and more real,” said Lynch, who also read a letter from President Barack Obama. “He will always be remembered, and rightly so, for that.”
Lynch said she will always remember Thompson as he was when she first met him, some 21 years ago in 1995, when he joined the US 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,” she said. “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,’” she added. “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,” Lynch continued. “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.’”
The United States Attorney General said that, even as Thompson 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,” she said. “All of us in law enforcement know that when a person is most in need of justice, he is often at his most vulnerable.”
Lynch said Thompson had a rare gift for connecting with people at that difficult moment — whether it was a reluctant witness in the Abner Louima case, which they worked together on, 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,” she said. “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.”
Lynch said she watched with such pride Thompson’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,” she said. “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,” she added. “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,” Lynch continued. “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,” she said. “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.”
An almost Who’s Who in New York politics were among mourners at the funeral service. They included Mayor Bill de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, federal judge Sterling Johnson, Public Advocate Letitia James, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, City Comptroller Scott Springer and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.
Springer told reporters that Thompson was “a young man, with great promise, and the city is not what it used to be.”
James said she was “going to miss him a lot,” adding: “We have to continue his mission of those incarcerated.”
David McCallum, who was incorrectly imprisoned for 29 years for murder and robbery, said he remembered Thompson’s words to him when he was released from prison.
“He said ‘keep your head up high’,” he said on ABC Channel 7’s “Eyewitness News.” “Why he introduced his family, his wife and his children said a lot of him. I thought about the compassion. Mr. Thompson set a high bar.”