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Kennedy on the Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007

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KENNEDY ON THE HATE CRIMES PREVENTION ACT OF 2007

At a time when our ideals are under attack by terrorists in other lands, it is more important than ever to demonstrate that we practice what we preach, and that we are doing all we can to root out the bigotry and prejudice in our own country that leads to violence here at home.

Crimes motivated by hate because of the victim's race, religion, ethnic background, sexual orientation, disability, or gender are not confined to the geographical boundaries of our great nation. The current conflicts in the Middle East and Northern Ireland, the ethnic cleansing campaigns in Bosnia and Rwanda, or the Holocaust itself demonstrate that violence motivated by hate is a world-wide danger, and we have a special responsibility to combat it here at home.

This amendment will strengthen the Defense Authorization Act by protecting those who volunteer to serve in the military. The vast majority of our soldiers serve with honor and distinction. These men and women put their lives on the line to ensure our freedom and for that, we are truly grateful.

Sadly, our military bases are not immune from the violence that comes from hatred - and even though members of the military put their lives on the line for us everyday -- they have not been immune from hate-motivated violence. Just last month, the FBI arrested members of the 82nd Airborne Division in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and charged them with selling stolen military property to an agent they believed was a white supremacist. The pair allegedly sold drugs and bulletproof vests, and were also reportedly interested in selling an Army Humvee and weapons. Officials said the two men had been seen at a white supremacist rally. One of them had a page on the web with photos of him posing with military weapons, statements about his Nazi heroes, and racist rants from his network of friends.

In December 2006, a Coast Guard procurement officer was given a bad conduct discharge and sentenced to a year in a military brig for posting Ku Klux Klan recruitment fliers on a white supremacist web site, illegally possessing weapons and explosive powder and grenade parts, lying to investigators, and other charges.

In December 1995, two paratroopers in a skinhead gang at Fort Bragg gunned down a black couple in a random, racially- motivated double murder that shocked the nation and led to a major investigation of extremism in the military. The killers were eventually sentenced to life in prison, and 19 other members of their division were dishonorably discharged for neo-Nazi gang activities.

In 1992, Allen Schindler, a sailor in the Navy was viciously murdered by two fellow sailors because of his sexual orientation. Seven years later, PFC Barry Winchell, an infantry soldier in the Army, was brutally slain for being perceived as gay. These incidents prompted the military to implement guidelines to prevent this type of violence, but there is more that we can do. We have to send a message that these crimes won't be tolerated against any member of society.

These examples clearly demonstrate the relevance of this amendment to the military. We can't tolerate hate-motivated violence and must do all we can to protect our men and women in uniform.

A disturbing trend has also been discovered in the military. Last year, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported that members of hate groups have been entering into the military. As recruiters struggle to fulfill their quotas, they are being forced to accept recruits who may be extremists, putting our soldiers at higher risk of hate motivated violence. This can't be tolerated. We must stem the tide of hatred and bigotry by sending a loud and clear message that hate crimes will be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

Since the September 11th attacks, we've seen a shameful increase in the number of hate crimes committed against Muslims, Sikhs, and Americans of Middle Eastern descent. Congress has done much to respond to the vicious attacks of September 11th. We have authorized the use of force against terrorists and those who harbor them in other lands. We have enacted legislation to provide aid to victims and their families, to strengthen airport security, to improve the security of our borders, to strengthen our defenses against bioterrorism, and to give law enforcement and intelligence officials enhanced powers to investigate and prevent terrorism.

Protecting the security of our homeland is a high priority, and there is more that we should do to strengthen our defenses against hate that comes from abroad. There is no reason why Congress should not act to strengthen our defenses against hate that occurs here at home.

Hate crimes are a form of domestic terrorism. They send the poisonous message that some Americans deserve to be victimized solely because of who they are. Like other 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. They are a violation of all our country stands for.

Since the September 11th attacks, the nation has been united in our effort to root out the cells of hatred around the world. We should not turn a blind eye to acts of hatred and terrorism here at home.

Attorney General Ashcroft put it well when he said: "Just as the United States will pursue, prosecute, and punish terrorists who attack America out of hatred for what we believe, we will pursue, prosecute and punish those who attack law-abiding Americans out of hatred for who they are. Hatred is the enemy of justice, regardless of its source."

Now more than ever, we need to act against hate crimes and send a strong message here and around the world that we will not tolerate crimes fueled by hate.

Hate is hate regardless of what nation it originates in. We can send a strong message about the need to eradicate hate crimes throughout the world by passing this hate crimes amendment to the Defense Department Authorization Bill. The hate crimes amendment we are offering today condemns the poisonous message that some human beings deserve to be victimized solely because of their race, religion, or sexual orientation and must not be ignored. This action is long overdue. When the Senate approves this amendment, we will send a message about freedom and equality that will resonate around the world.


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