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Public Statements

Statement on the Hate Crimes Amendment to Defense Authorization Bill

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SENATOR EDWARD M. KENNEDY STATEMENT ON THE HATE CRIMES AMENDMENT TO DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION BILL

I thank the Chairman for the opportunity to discuss the profound need to strengthen our national response to the problem of hate crimes. I urge the conferees to keep this critical bipartisan provision in the Defense Authorization Bill.

Thanks to the leadership of Chairman John Warner and Senator Gordon Smith, in June of this year the Senate added the hate crimes provision to the bill by a nearly 2-to-1 bipartisan majority: 65 to 33. We saw yesterday evening that the provision also has broad bipartisan support in the House of Representatives. By a vote of 213 to 186, the House instructed its conferees to keep this provision in the conference report.

The hate crimes provision is also called the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act. It's been endorsed by over 175 law enforcement, civil rights, civic and religious organizations, including:

o the National Sheriffs' Association o the International Association of Chiefs of Police o the U.S. Conference of Mayors o the Anti-Defamation League o the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights o the National Council of La Raza o the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee o the American Association of People with Disabilities, and o the National Center for Victims of Crime.

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.

Make no mistake - hate crimes are domestic acts of terrorism. They attack and maim and kill because of who a person is. How can we say we're fighting a war on terrorism, when we're not prepared to fight it here at home?

Since the September 11th attacks, we've seen a shameful increase in the number of hate crimes committed in our country against Arabs and Muslims - murders, beatings, arson, attacks on mosques, shootings, and other assaults.

In 2001, anti-Muslim incidents were the second highest-reported type of hate crimes based on religion B second only to anti-Jewish hate crimes. Los Angeles and Chicago reported a massive increase in the number of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hate crimes after 9/11.

We've done a great deal together to respond to the vicious attacks of September 11th. We've authorized the use of force against terrorists and those who harbor them in other lands. We've given aid to victims and their families, strengthened homeland security, and given law enforcement and intelligence officials greater powers to investigate and prevent terrorism.

We need to act against hate crimes too. Like other acts of terrorism, hate crimes have an impact far greater than the impact on the individual victims. They're crimes against entire communities, against the whole nation, and against the fundamental ideals on which America was founded. They're a violation of all our country stands for.

Attorney General Ashcroft agrees. He 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."

The hate crimes provision in the Senate bill will strengthen the ability of federal, state and local governments to investigate and prosecute these vicious and senseless crimes.

The current inadequate law on hate crimes was passed soon after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but now it's a generation out of date. It has two significant defects. It does not cover hate crimes based on gender, disability, or sexual orientation. 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 Afederally protected activities.

That requirement is outdated, unwise, and unnecessary. There is no reason the Justice Department should have to prove that someone was engaging in a "federally protected activity" before a case can be brought. This requirement severely limits the ability of the Justice Department to respond to hate crimes against Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and other religious groups. It also hamstrings the Department in its effort to respond to hate crimes motivated by the victim's race or ethnic background. Our provision closes these substantial and unjustified loopholes.

Nothing in the Senate provision prohibits or punishes speech B even Ahate speech." It addresses only violent actions that result in death or injury. The Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that no one has a First Amendment right to commit a crime.

Our provision respects the primary role of state and local law enforcement in responding to crime. The vast majority of hate crimes will continue to be prosecuted at the state and local level. Our provision authorizes the Justice Department to assist state and local authorities in hate crime cases. It authorizes a federal prosecution only when a state does not have jurisdiction, or when a state asks the federal government to take jurisdiction, or when a state fails to act against hate-motivated violence. In essence, the provision is a 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 valuable assistance to state and local authorities, without undermining the traditional role of states in prosecuting crimes. Full cooperation between federal, state, and local law enforcement officers, and between Justice Department prosecutors and local prosecutors, can be our most effective weapon in preventing and punishing hate crimes.

This is our chance to speak with one voice and make clear that all Americans have the equal protection of the laws. Combating hate crimes deserves this priority. The Senate provision is a needed response to a serious problem that continues to plague the nation. I commend Chairman Warner for his leadership and support on this issue, and I urge my colleagues in both the House and the Senate to retain this provision in the conference report.

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