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Hearing of the House Committee on the Judiciary- Jena 6 and the Role of Federal Intervention in Hate Crimes and Race-Related Violence in Public School

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Location: Washington, DC


Hearing of the House Committee on the Judiciary- Jena 6 and the Role of Federal Intervention in Hate Crimes and Race-Related Violence in Public School

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REP. LAMAR SMITH (R-TX): Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for those always gracious and always generous words.

Jena, Louisiana has suffered through a tragic series of racial incidents and subsequent racial strife. I sincerely hope this hearing will focus on productive solutions. And in that regard, Mr. Chairman, let me say that in reading the testimony of our witnesses today, I was gratified to see so many suggestions for how we might reach those healing solutions.

The title of this hearing uses the "hate crimes," but the proposed federal hate crimes legislation would only criminalize those incidents that are accompanied by acts of violence. If current laws are insufficient to cover certain crimes, then we need to consider changing them.

Mr. Chairman, more than anything, though, what we need is an effort to reduce racial tension and discrimination. What we do not need is stoking racial resentment. Race, under the criminal law cannot be allowed to act like the laws of magnetism, inevitably pulling society's compass to point one way or another based on the color of one's skin. If justice is blind, she must be colorblind as well.

Mr. Chairman, this is a historic hearing today, as you've already said, and I think much good can come out of it. And I have great faith in our witnesses today, not only to testify as to solutions they think are appropriate, but also to take steps today to begin that healing process as we all work together toward that goal.

And with that, Mr. Chairman, I with yield back.

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REP. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Washington and Ms. Krigsten, thank you for your testimony and particularly the more extensive written testimony that you submitted. And I certainly hope that any member of Congress who questions how much the federal government is doing will take advantage of reading your testimony and also perhaps talk, as I understand it, to the director of the Community Relations Service, who is sitting behind you. I know much is being done on the ground and there's no substitute for -- frankly, for the footsteps of those in the federal government to reassure people. At the same time, while everything you're doing, I think, is worthwhile and needed, we need to remember to respond to some of the suggestions by Professor Ogletree that it's not just enough to be there. Some policies have to change as well.

Anyway, thank you for your testimony. What I wanted to ask you is, do you think the environment is changing? Do you think there is an improvement in the way people see racial injustice in Jena now as a result of your efforts?

MR. WASHINGTON: I will start by -- I'll start and answer that question. My gut tells me yes, and the reason I say that is because a number of them have indicated that they never thought that their fair city would be held up to the world as an example of a racist city. And they never thought that they would have somewhere between 12,000 and 60,000 people show up in their city at one time. Having said that, they are struggling with coming up with ideas as to how to move forward. We are working with them, as I said before, through the Community Relations Service, through my office and through the Civil Rights Division to help them come up with ways to move forward. We are considering -- you know, how do we get, for example, different types of funding, perhaps, for programs that they may come up to assist with the kind of interactions that simply need to occur in that city.

REP. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Washington.

Ms. Krigsten, do you have anything to add to that?

MS. KRIGSTEN: I do want to add that there is a healthy dialogue taking place in Jena at this time. Mr. Washington was joined by the head of the Civil Right Division and the director of the Community Relations Service in Jena just last Friday, and they had a dialogue with members of the clergy and other leaders in the community. And based on reports of those meetings, the dialogue continues and things are slowly getting better, much with the assistance and guidance of the Community Relations Service, which continues to provide active support in that community.

REP. SMITH: Okay, thank you.

Mr. Cohen, thank you for your testimony. I really thought it was balanced and I thought you had a couple of solutions that I want to read in a minute, because you did not get to them, I don't think, in your oral testimony. But I also appreciated your saying something today that frankly, I think, maybe needs to be said a little bit more often. You said, "We do not excuse violence of any kind or minimize Justin's injuries in any way. Our hearts go out to him and his family."

And in point of fact -- and it's often overlooked -- a brutal and unprovoked attack occurred, and apparently it was perpetrated by an individual with a long criminal history. I don't think we ought to make light of that in looking at the bigger picture, but I appreciate your mentioning that.

I also appreciate your making two suggestions on solutions. You said, "We should increase federal investment in services designed to soothe the racial and ethnic tensions simmering in our nation's schools and to respond promptly when hate crimes occur."

You also said, "The federal government, working with experts in the field, can help officials like those in Jena work toward the goal of creating schools where all students feel physically and emotionally safe."

Those are wonderful goals. It's a challenge for members of Congress to implement policies and for the American people, wherever they're located, to try to achieve them.

I don't have time for a question because I want to make a comment to Professor Ogletree. First of all, Professor, in your bio that we have before us, it says that you began your career at Harvard Law School in 1919. Now, I know you're -- (laughter) -- I know you're a wise --

MR. OGLETREE: That's Charles Hamilton Houston, not me. That's the other Charles. (Laughter.)

REP. SMITH: I know you're a wise man. I didn't know you were that experienced is my point.

Professor, what I wanted to say to you -- I actually want to read something from your written testimony that you did not, I don't think, mention in your oral testimony. "With more than 3,000 people lynched from the late 1800s to the early 1900s, children often attended such events as if they were carnivals. A noose today is a powerful symbol of American white supremacy and pure barbarism. Given the context, a noose, particularly to an African-American who knows his history, is nothing less than an expression of hatred. Moreover, if the students responsible for hanging the now infamous nooses in Jena are unable to appreciate the significant brutality of such an act, that lack of understanding should be addressed for the good of the collective community."

Mr. Ogletree, it is not easy for us to put ourselves in the shoes of others, but I believe you have crystallized, as well as it can be written, not necessarily felt. And your comments there, I think, need to be taught in the classrooms. They need to be views exchanged among parents, and they need to be remembered by members of Congress when we get to the point of creating additional policies. So I wanted to thank you for your testimony.

And Mr. Chairman, my time is over.

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