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Public Statements

Matthew Shepard Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


MATTHEW SHEPARD ACT

Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, hate crimes violate everything our country stands for. They send a loud and clear message to some of our fellow citizens that they are not welcome in our society. The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act, passed last week by the Senate as an amendment to the Defense authorization bill, makes clear that we will not stand by and allow our fellow citizens to be brutalized.

Enactment of such legislation is vitally important to the Arab-American community, that has suffered a surge in hate crimes against them in recent years because of 9/11. After the terrorist attacks that day, the FBI documented a ninefold increase in hate crimes against persons believed to be Arab or Muslim and a 130-percent increase in incidents directed on individuals because of their ethnic background or national origin. When the terrorists attacked our Nation, they also delivered a second attack against Americans who shared their ethnic background and religion but not their hate or violence.

In their recent publication, ``Report on Hate Crimes & Discrimination Against Arab Americans: The Post-September 11 Backlash (2003),'' the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee identified a number of confirmed and suspected hate crime murders of Arab Americans and those perceived to be Arab or Muslim. In Mesa, AZ, Balbir Singh Sodhi, an Indian Sikh, was shot while he was planting flowers outside his Chevron station. His murderer, Frank Roque, had spent the day drinking and raving about how he wanted to kill the ``rag heads'' responsible for the terrorist attacks four days earlier. After being kicked out of a bar, Roque went on a shooting rampage. He first shot and killed Sodhi, and afterwards fired on the home of an Afghan family. He then fired several times at a Lebanese-American clerk, who, fortunately, escaped injury. During his arrest he yelled, ``I am a patriot!'' and ``I stand for America all the way!''

In Dallas, Waqar Hasan, a Pakistani Muslim, was shot in the face while cooking hamburgers in his grocery store. Mark Anthony Stroman confessed on a Dallas radio program to the murder, saying he killed Hasan and another man and shot a third person in revenge for the terrorist attacks. During an interview, Stroman confessed that he wanted to ``retaliate on local Arab Americans or whatever you want to call them.'' He also added that he ``did what every American wanted to do but didn't. They didn't have the nerve.'' Stroman was convicted and sentenced to death. In Lincoln Park, MI, Ali Almansoop, a U.S. citizen originally from Yemen, was shot to death while fleeing his attacker. The victim was asleep with his girlfriend when her ex-boyfriend broke into her apartment and dragged him out of bed. According to his own police confession and the woman's statements, he threatened, ``I'm going to kill you for what happened in NY and DC.'' The victim fled outside and was shot in the back trying to escape.

Several other incidents have also occurred that are suspected to be hate crime killings, including the murder of an Egyptian-American grocery store owner, who was killed at work. He was confronted by two men who shot him and rode off in a Honda driven by a third man, leaving the money in the cash register intact.

In Reedley, CA, Abdo Ali Ahmed, a 50-year-old Arab-American store employee, was shot several times and killed at work late one afternoon. Witnesses told detectives that they saw four males leave the site in a white four-door sedan. No money or merchandise was stolen. The employee had received threats since mid-September.

In Minneapolis, a Somali man waiting at a bus stop was beaten unconscious and later died in the hospital. His son believes the assault was the result of an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, which reported that local Somalis might have inadvertently donated to an organization now linked to Osama bin Laden. In Los Angeles, Syrian-born liquor storeowner, Ramez Younan, was shot to death behind his cash register. Police said they had no suspects and no clear motive for the shooting and no money was stolen from the store. The Los Angeles Police Department found Younan's body but no witnesses.

These examples emphasize the need for effective legislation and the importance of providing adequate resources to state and local law enforcement to investigate and prosecute hate crimes. Violent hate crimes can't be tolerated. We can reverse the tide of hatred and bigotry, by sending a loud, clear message that hate crimes will be punished to the full extent of the law, and will not be tolerated against any member of society.

The Matthew Shepard Act is supported by a broad coalition of 210 law enforcement, civic, disability, religious and civil rights groups, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Anti-Defamation League, the Interfaith Alliance, the National Sheriff's Association, the Human Rights Campaign, the National District Attorneys Association and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. All of these diverse groups have come together to say now is the time for us to take action to protect our fellow citizens from the brutality of hate-motivated violence. The Senate did just that last week, and we must do all we can to see that this urgently needed federal legislation is enacted into law as soon as possible.

Mr. President, I commend the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee for calling the Nation's attention to this serious problem, and I ask unanimous consent that an excerpt from their recent report be printed in the Record.

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