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Remarks of Senator Edward M. Kennedy on the Need to Raise Public Awareness of Hate Crimes

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It's an honor to be here today with my colleagues, Senator Smith, Senator Hatch, Senator Clinton, and Senator Boxer, and I welcome this bipartisan effort to deal with the serious problem of hate crimes.

Hate crimes are a violation of everything our country stands for. Like other 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 said, "Criminal acts of hate run counter to what is best in America - our belief in equality and freedom."

The number of hate crimes continues to grow. According to the F.B.I., over 9,700 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. In Los Angeles and Chicago, officials reported fifteen times the number of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim crimes in 2001 compared to the preceding year.

Hate crimes continue to be a serious danger to the gay and lesbian community as well. Nearly five years have passed since the vicious murder of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming. In her tireless efforts on behalf of the Matthew Shepard Foundation to promote tolerance and understanding instead of hate and violence, Judy Shepard, Matthew's mother, is truly a profile in courage. I also commend Trev Broudy - a survivor of a brutal hate crime in West Hollywood, California - for his extraordinary courage and perseverance.

In April 2001, Attorney General Ashcroft announced the indictment of a man for murdering two hikers on the Appalachian Trail - Julianne Williams and Lollie Winans - because of their gender and sexual orientation. The Justice Department was involved in the case because the crime took place on federal land in Shenandoah National Park. If it had happened somewhere else in Virginia, federal officials could not have assisted the Virginia authorities in the case.

We also know the tragic consequences of hate crimes based on disability. In 1999, New Jersey was shocked by the prolonged torture of a mentally disabled man by seven young adults. In April of this year, a group of teenagers killed Ricky Whistnant, a 39-year-old mentally retarded man in New Britain, Connecticut. Three years earlier, he had received a state award for his success in winning his own legal guardianship and moving into his own apartment.

No member of society - no one - deserves to be the victim of a violent crime because of their race, religion, ethnic background, gender, disability, or sexual orientation. Congress cannot sit silent while hatred spreads. It is long past time to do more to end hate-motivated violence.

The current federal law on hate crimes was enacted soon after the assassination of Martin Luther King. Today, however, it is a generation out of date. It does not apply at all to hate crimes based on sexual orientation, gender, or disability. And 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 "federally protected activities," such as jury service or interstate travel.

I welcome the participation of our Republican colleagues. I know that they care deeply about the problem of hate crimes, and want to do something about it. We know the urgent need to deal more effectively with this serious issue. Now is the time for Congress to speak with one voice and do all we can to eliminate these brutal crimes.

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