SENATORS KENNEDY AND SMITH FIGHT HATE CRIMES IN OUR COMMUNITES
Building on bi-partisan support, Kennedy and Smith work to close loopholes and strengthen enforcement of current hate crime legislation
Washington, D.C. -- Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) and Gordon Smith (R-OR) today re-introduced bipartisan legislation to strengthen the enforcement and prosecution of hate crimes based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and disability. Today's legislation addresses gaping loopholes and excessive restrictions requiring proof victims were attacked because of engaging in "federally protected activities" and does not include violence committed because of sexual orientation, gender, or disability.
"Hate crimes are basically acts of domestic terrorism," Senator Kennedy said, "they have an impact far greater than the impact on the individual victim. They're crimes against entire communities, against the whole nation, and against the fundamental ideals on which America was founded."
Senators Kennedy and Smith first introduced this measure last year as part of the Defense Authorization Bill and received overwhelming bi-partisan support when it passed in a nearly 2-1 vote of 65-33. By a vote of 213-186, the House instructed its conferees to support it in the conference report on the bill, only for it to be dropped when House leadership insisted the provision be left out of conference.
The Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act would close flagrant loopholes to include protections for those victimized because of sexual orientation, gender, and disability. In addition to removing the federally protected activity requirement and expanding the class of protected people: The bill protects state interests with a strict certification procedure that requires the federal government to consult with local officials before bringing a federal case. It offers federal assistance to help state and local law enforcement investigate and prosecute hate crimes in any of the categories. It offers training grants for local law enforcement. It amends the Federal Hate Crime Statistics Act to add gender to the existing categories of race, religion, ethnic background, sexual orientation, and disability.
According to FBI statistics, in 2003 there were over 9,000 reported victims of hate crimes in the United States-almost 25 victims a day. Sadly, many hate crimes go unreported and the Southern Poverty Law Center estimates the actual number of hate crimes each year is closer to 50,000.
Below is a joint statement by Senators Kennedy and Smith followed by Senator Kennedy's full statement on the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act of 2005.
JOINT STATEMENT BY SENATORS EDWARD M. KENNEDY AND GORDON SMITH INTRODUCUNG THE LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT ENHANCEMENT ACT OF 2005 It is long past time for Congress to demonstrate its commitment to ending brutal, hate-motivated violence. Today, we re-introduce the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act to strengthen the ability of law enforcement to investigate and prosecute hate crimes based on race, ethnic background, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and disability. The Act is a constructive, overdue response to the serious festering problem of violence motivated by biogotry that continues to plague our nation.
Hate crimes are a violation of everything our country stands for. They send the poisonous message that some Americans deserve to be assaulted or even murdered solely because of who they are.
Like acts of terrorism, hate crimes have an impact far greater than the harm suffered by the individual victims. These are crimes against entire communities -- and against the fundamental ideals of liberty and justice for all on which America was founded.
According to FBI statistics, there were approximately 9,100 victims of reported hate crimes in the United States in 2003 - almost 25 hate crimes each day, every day. It is time to make combating these crimes a genuine national priority. Clearly, the federal government needs to do more to end these senseless acts of hate and violence.
Clearly, the federal government needs to do more to end these senseless acts of hate and violence. The existing federal law on hate crimes is inadequate. Our bill expands the definition of hate crimes to include crimes based on gender, sexual orientation, and disability. It strengthens state and local efforts to combat violence by enabling the Justice Department to assist them in the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes, and to provide grants to help state and local governments meet the extraordinary expenses involved in hate crime cases.
The Act has the support of a wide range of law enforcement, religious, and civil rights organizations. It also has strong bipartisan support in Congress, and we're optimistic it will be enacted into law this year.
Statement of Edward M. Kennedy Introducing Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act of 2005
Mr. President, hate crimes are a violation of everything our country stands for. They send the poisonous message that some Americans deserve to be victimized solely because of who they are. They're basically acts of domestic terrorism. Hate crimes have an impact far greater than the impact on their individual victim. They're crimes against entire communities, against the whole nation, and against the fundamental ideals on which America was founded.
The vast majority of Congress agrees. Last year, Senator Smith and I offered the same measure. The Senate passed it as an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill by a nearly 2-1 bi-partisan vote of 65-33. By a vote of 213-186, the House instructed its conferees to support it in the conference report on the bill. Unfortunately, House leaders insisted that the provision be dropped in conference. This week, Senator Smith and I are introducing the identical bill.
The provision is supported by a broad coalition of law enforcement and civil rights groups, including the National Sheriff's Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Anti-Defamation League, and the National Center for Victims of Crime, and I'm optimistic the bill would have the same broad support it did before. Those who commit hate crimes prey on the vulnerable and terrorize them, because they can't protect themselves. If our nation stands for anything, it's to protect the vulnerable.
We know that hate crimes are a serious problem that continues to plague us. According to FBI statistics, over 9,000 people were victims of hate crimes reported in the United States in 2003. That's almost 25 people victimized a day, every day, based on their race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnic background, or disability. Sadly, these F.B.I. statistics show only part of the problem, because many hate crimes go unreported. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit organization that monitors hate groups and extremist activity, estimates that the actual number of hate crimes committed in the United States each year is closer to 50,000.
Congress can't ignore the problem. Our bill will strengthen the ability of federal, state, and local governments to investigate and prosecute these vicious and senseless crimes. Current federal law, obviously isn't adequate to protect our citizens. It contains excessive restrictions requiring proof that victims were attacked because they were engaged in certain "federally protected activities." It doesn't include violence committed because of person's sexual orientation, gender, or disability. It covers only hate crimes based on race, religion, or ethnic background.
The federally protected activity requirement is outdated, unwise, and unnecessary. In June 2003, three men saw 6 Latino teenagers in a family restaurant on Long Island. The teenagers, 3 boys and 3 girls, between 13-15 years old, knew each other from church and baseball teams. They were there together to celebrate the birthday of one of the girls, whose parents made her take her 13 year old sister along as "chaperone." A parent dropped them all off in his mini-van and promised to pick them up after dinner and a movie. But, moments after leaving, he received a panicked phone call from one of the children, telling him they'd been attacked.
As the group entered the restaurant, three men were leaving the bar, after drinking there for hours. For no apparent reason, they assaulted the teenagers, pummeling one boy and severing a tendon in his hand with a sharp weapon. During the attack, the men screamed racial slurs and one identified himself as a skinhead. The children, who had never experienced anything like this, have been traumatized ever since.
Two of the defendants were tried under current federal law for committing a hate crime and were acquitted. The Jurors said they acquitted them because the government had not proved the attack took place because the victims were engaged in a federally protected activity -- using the restaurant.
The bill we introduce today eliminates the federally protected activity requirement. Under this bill, these defendants who walked out of the front door of the courthouse free that day would almost certainly have left in handcuffs through a different door.
The bill also recognizes that hate crimes are committed against people because of their sexual orientation, their gender, and their disability. Current federal law didn't protect gay campers in Honolulu from attempted murder when their tents were doused with a flammable liquid and set on fire because they were gay.
It didn't protect Brandon Teena, in Humboldt, Nebraska, who was raped and beaten by two male friends when they discovered that he was living as a male but was anatomically female. The local sheriff refused to arrest the offenders, and they later shot and stabbed Brandon to death.
Current law did not protect a 23 year old mentally disabled man in Port Monmouth, New Jersey who was kidnapped by 9 men and women and tortured for three hours before being dumped in the woods because he was disabled.
Our bill will close all these flagrant loopholes. In addition to removing the federally protected activity requirement and expanding the class of protected people: The bill protects state interests with a strict certification procedure that requires the federal government to consult with local officials before bringing a federal case. It offers federal assistance to help state and local law enforcement investigate and prosecute hate crimes in any of the categories. It offers training grants for local law enforcement. It amends the Federal Hate Crime Statistics Act to add gender to the existing categories of race, religion, ethnic background, sexual orientation, and disability.
A strong federal role in prosecuting hate crimes is essential for practical and symbolic reasons. In practical terms, the bill will have a real world impact on actual criminal investigations and prosecutions by state and federal officials.
The presence or absence of the "federally protected activity" requirement frequently determines whether state and local resources must be used to prosecute these crimes or whether the federal government can bring its full weight to bear on the case.
Hate crime investigations tend to be expensive, requiring considerable law enforcement legwork and extensive use of investigative grand juries. State officials regularly seek federal assistance in bringing hate crime offenders to justice under current law. This bill expands the opportunity for the Justice Department to provide that support.
Our bill fully respects the primary role of state and local law enforcement in responding to violent crime. The vast majority of hate crimes will continue to be prosecuted at the state and local level. The bill authorizes the Justice Department to assist state and local authorities in hate crimes cases, it authorizes federal prosecutions only when a state does not have jurisdiction, or when it asks the federal government to take jurisdiction, or when it fails to act against hate-motivated violence.
In other words, the bill establishes an appropriate 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.
The symbolic value of the bill is equally important. Hate crimes target whole communities, not just individuals. They are intended to send messages of fear that extend beyond the moment and beyond the individual victim of the attack. Attacking people because they are gay, or African-American, or Jewish, or any other criteria in the bill is bigotry at its worst. Hate crimes are designed to de-humanize and diminish, and we must say loud and clear to those inclined to commit them that they'll go to prison if they do.
The vast majority of us in Congress recognized the importance of making that statement last year. This year, we can make the statement even louder, by turning this bill into law.