Healey regrets 2020 comment on ‘how forests grow’

‘I wish I could do it over again,’ she says of Chamber speech

ON JUNE 2, 2020, eight days after the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, Attorney General Maura Healey gave a speech to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce in which she focused on the lack of progress in addressing racial inequality and the storm of protests churned up by the killing.

As she ended her remarks, Healey offered a metaphor for the racial reckoning the country was confronting. “Yes, America is burning, but that’s how forests grow,” she told her audience over Zoom.

It was a provocative phrase that quickly drew scorn from Republicans and those on the right. Now, in the midst of a campaign for governor that is hers to lose, Healey is walking it back.

“I wish I could do it over again because I would not have used that phrase to make my point, which was certainly not about violence in the streets or anything related to what was happening in terms of protests around George Floyd’s murder,” she said in an interview with CommonWealth.

In her speech, Healey focused on race and how COVID-19 had exacerbated the disparities that Black and brown Americans endure. She said her office had fallen short in addressing the “systematic racism” plaguing American society and said the killing of Floyd and the inequities illustrated by COVID provided an opportunity for the United States to create a more just society.

“I support calls for a revolution but not the revolution of violence in our streets,” Healey said. “Instead, I’m calling for a revolution in mindset, a fundamental change to our ingrained assumptions.”

The attorney general ended her speech with the line about how America is burning but that’s how forests grow. It was the line in the speech that caught attention.

“It was a poor word choice, a poor phrase choice,” she said. “It was not about George Floyd. It was not about protests. What it was was a comment that I made at the tail end of my Chamber speech, I think, acknowledging that right now in our country we’re going through a lot of turmoil. There’s a lot of divisiveness, there’s a lot of fighting, it seems. My hope, and what I was trying to express in that comment, which was a metaphor, is that through all of this we would emerge stronger and better.”

Healey came under fire from the National Review, conservative columnists, and Jim Lyons, the head of the Massachusetts Republican Party.

“By choosing to highlight this insane analogy, it should be clear to Massachusetts residents that no matter what else Democrats like Attorney General Healey say, they will always condone mob tactics,” said Lyons. “The Radical Democrats, led by the likes of Attorney General Healey, sat back and watched as cities went up in flames over the weekend, and are now openly admitting that this is all part of their plan to fundamentally change America by any means possible. This is no way to honor the memory of George Floyd, or correct the problems that led to his unjustified killing.”

Healey said her words have been misconstrued to suggest she condoned the violent protests. “You all know me as attorney general and I’m not about an affront to law and order,” she said.

In writing the 2020 speech, she said, she tried to come up with a metaphor that would express what she was trying to say, but came up short.

 “Oh God, that was a big mess. That is not what I meant,” she said.