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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions S. 966

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

CONGRESSIONAL RECORD
SENATE
PAGE S5652
May 1, 2003

STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS

By Mr. KENNEDY (for himself, Mr. SPECTER, Mr. DASCHLE, Mr. SMITH, Mr. LEAHY, Ms. COLLINS, Mr. LIEBERMAN, Ms. SNOWE, Mr. WYDEN, Mr. JEFFORDS, Mr. SCHUMER, Mr. CHAFEE, Mr. AKAKA, Mr. ENSIGN, Mr. BAYH, Mr. BIDEN, Mr. BINGAMAN, Mrs. BOXER, Mr. BREAUX, Ms. CANTWELL, Mr. CARPER, Mrs. CLINTON, Mr. CORZINE, Mr. DAYTON, Mr. DODD, Mr. DORGAN, Mr. DURBIN, Mr. EDWARDS, Mrs. FEINSTEIN, Mr. GRAHAM of Florida, Mr. HARKIN, Mr. INOUYE, Mr. JOHNSON, Mr. KERRY, Ms. LANDRIEU, Mr. LEVIN, Mrs. LINCOLN, Ms. MIKULSKI, Mr. MILLER, Mrs. MURRAY, Mr. NELSON of Nebraska, Mr. NELSON of Florida, Mr. REED, Mr. REID, Mr. ROCKEFELLER, Mr. SARBANES, Ms. STABENOW, Mr. LAUTENBERG, and Mr. PRYOR):

    S. 966. A bill to provide Federal assistance to States and local jurisdictions to prosecute hate crimes; to the Committee on the Judiciary.

    Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, it's a privilege to join my colleagues in introducing this legislation to combat hate crimes. Hate crimes are a violation of all our country stands for. They send the poisonous message that some Americans deserve to be victimized solely because of who they are. Like acts of terrorism, hate crimes have an impact far greater than the impact on the individual victims. They are crimes against entire communities, against the whole Nation, and against the fundamental ideals on which America was founded. As Attorney General Ashcroft has said, "Criminal acts of hate run counter to what is best in America—our belief in equality and freedom."

    Although there was a significant overall reduction in violent crimes during the 1990s, the number of hate crimes continued to grow. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9,730 hate crimes were reported in the United States in 2001. That is over 26 hate crimes a day, every day. More than 83,000 hate crimes have been reported since 1991.

    The need for an effective national response is as compelling as it has ever been. Hate crimes against Arabs and Muslims rose dramatically in the weeks following the September 11 terrorist attacks. These hate crimes included murder, beatings, arson, attacks on mosques, shootings, and other assaults. In 2001, anti-Islamic incidents were the second highest-reported type of hate crimes based on religion—second only to anti-Jewish hate crimes. Los Angeles and Chicago reported a massive increase in the number of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim crimes after 9/11.

[Page S5653]

    Hate crimes based on sexual orientation continue to be a serious danger, constituting 14 percent of all hate crimes reported.

    Each person's life is valuable, and even one life lost is too many. It is not the frequency of hate crimes alone that makes these acts of violence so serious. It is the terror and intimidation they inflict on the victims, their families, their communities, and, in some cases, the entire Nation.

    Congress cannot sit silent while this hatred spreads. It is long past time for us to do more to end hate-motivated violence. The Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act will strengthen the ability of Federal, State and local governments to investigate and prosecute these vicious and senseless crimes. Our legislation is supported by over 175 law enforcement, civil rights, civic, and religious organizations.

    The current Federal law on hate crimes was passed soon after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Today, however, it is a generation out of date. It has two significant deficiencies. It does not cover hate crimes based on sexual orientation, gender, or disability. And even in cases of hate crimes based on race, religion, or ethnic background, it contains excessive restrictions requiring proof that the victims were attacked because they were engaged in certain "federally protected activities."

    Our bill is designed to close these substantial loopholes. It has six principal provisions: 1. It removes the "federally protected activity" barrier. 2. It adds sexual orientation, gender and disability to the existing categories of race, color, religion, and national origin. 3. It protects State interests with a strict certification procedure that requires the Federal Government to consult with local officials before bringing a Federal case. 4. It offers federal assistance to State and local law enforcement officials to investigate and prosecute heated crimes in any of the federal categories. 5. It offers training grants for local law enforcement. 6. It amends the Federal Hate Crime Statistics Act to add gender to the existing categories of race, religion, ethnic background, sexual orientation, and disability.

    These much needed changes in current law will help ensure that the Department of Justice has what it needs to combat the growing problem of hate-motivated violence more effectively.

    Nothing in the bill prohibits or punishes speech, expression, or association in any way—even "hate speech." It addresses only violent actions that result in death or injury. The Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly—and as recently as this year, in the cross-burning decision Virginia v. Black—that a hate crimes statute that considers bias motivation directly connected to a defendant's criminal conduct does not violate the First Amendment. No one has a First Amendment right to commit a crime.

    A strong Federal role in prosecuting hate crimes is essential, because crimes have an impact far greater than their impact on individual victims. Nevertheless, our bill fully respects the primary role of state and local law enforcement in responding to violent crime. The vast majority of hate crimes will continue to be prosecuted at the state and local level. The bill authorizes the Justice Department to assist State and local authorities in hate crimes cases, but it authorizes Federal prosecutions only when a state does not have jurisdiction, or when it asks the Federal Government to take jurisdiction, or when it fails to act against hate-motivated violence. In other words, the bill establishes an appropriate back-up for State and local law enforcement, to deal with hate crimes in cases where states request assistance, or cases that would not otherwise be effectively investigated and prosecuted.

    Working cooperatively, State, local and Federal law enforcement officials have the best chance to bring the perpetrators of hate crimes to justice. Federal resources and expertise in the identification and proof of hate crimes can provide invaluable assistance to state and local authorities without undermining the traditional role of states in prosecuting crimes. As Attorney General Ashcroft has said of current law, "Cooperation between federal agents and local law enforcement officers and between Justice Department prosecutors and local prosecutors has been outstanding." And it will continue to be so, and be even more effective, when this legislation is enacted into law.

    Now is the time for Congress to speak with one voice and insist that all Americans will be guaranteed the equal protection of the laws. Now is the time to make combating hate crimes a high national priority. The Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act is a needed response to a serious problem that continues to plague the nation, and I urge the Senate to support it.

    I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the RECORD

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