REMARKS OF SENATOR EDWARD M. KENNEDY AT THE PRESS CONFERENCE ON HATE CRIMES LEGISLATION
It's a privilege to join my colleagues in this new effort to see that Congress takes long-needed action against hate crimes. The Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act we are introducing today has the support of a broad coalition of law enforcement, civil rights, and faith-based organizations.
The number of hate crimes continues to grow. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9,730 hate crimes were reported in the United States in 2001. That's 26 hate crimes each day, every day.
After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, a shameful increase in hate crimes took place against Arabs and Muslims. Los Angeles and Chicago reported exceptionally large numbers of those crimes. Hate crimes continue to be a serious danger to the gay and lesbian community as well. No member of society - no one - deserves to be the victim of a violent crime committed because of their race, religion, their sexual orientation, or for any other reason.
Hate crimes are a violation of everything our country stands for. Like all acts of terrorism, they have an impact far greater than that suffered by the individual victims and their families. They send the poisonous message that some Americans deserve to be attacked solely because of who they are. As Attorney General Ashcroft has stated, "Criminal acts of hate run counter to what is best in America - our belief in equality and freedom."
For too long, the federal government has been forced to stand on the sidelines in the battle against hate crimes. The bill we are introducing today will change that, by strengthening the ability of the Justice Department and state and local governments to investigate and prosecute these vicious and senseless crimes. A substantial federal role in hate crimes is not inconsistent with the role of state and local law enforcement in dealing with crime. It is fully consistent with freedom of speech, which gives no protection to acts of violence.
The Senate has voted twice on this basic principle in recent years. It is time for both Houses of Congress, speaking with one voice, to make clear that all Americans deserve protection against hate crimes.