Search Form
First, enter a politician or zip code
Now, choose a category

Public Statements

Hate Crimes

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I hope our friends and colleagues had a good opportunity to listen to the excellent, extraordinary, compelling presentation my friend from Oregon has made on this issue. I have had the good opportunity to work with him for a good number of years. I always find that when he speaks on this issue, as he does on other issues of war and peace, he is able to get to the heart and the soul of these matters. Today, he has described the moral requirements presented to us on the issue of hate crimes, and he has done that in a very thoughtful and sensitive way, besides explaining in a very detailed way not only the underlying legislation but the compelling reasons for it at this time. One can say that, on this legislation, now is the time, to repeat those wonderful words of Dr. King; that now is the time for action.

Senator Smith has reminded us why this legislation is so important now on the Defense authorization bill. We cannot let another day, really hours, go by without this legislation. It reminds us of not only the moral compulsion but also why it is necessary to put this as an amendment onto the Defense authorization bill. As we are facing terrorism abroad, we also want to deal with terrorism here at home; and as we are looking at the values those serving abroad are fighting for against the terrorist elements abroad, it is important to reaffirm them and make them consistent with our best instincts. I commend the Senator for his presentation on this issue.

We are hopeful, Senator Smith and I, we will have the chance to actually vote on this measure. As he has pointed out, this is not a new issue or question for this body. This is one of those issues we have had a chance to debate, debate, debate, and debate. The House of Representatives has taken a very clear and compelling stand. We have voted, the majority of the membership of this body, Democrat and Republican, in Republican Senates and Democratic Senates, to take action on this proposal. We don't need a great amount of time to deal with this issue, but it is appropriate that we lay out this case for it, and I welcome the chance to make some comments on it today. I am hopeful we will have the opportunity to proceed to it.

I was in the Senate when we passed the first hate crimes legislation in 1968, after the death of Dr. King.

We started off with strong legislation. It was cut back and cut back, so now we find that basically it is ineffective in dealing with hate crimes for a number of the reasons the Senator has outlined, because of the kinds of restrictions that have been placed on it. Again we are reminded of the need for this legislation. With the passage of this legislation, we will be, hopefully, a safer and more secure nation.

Legislation has real implications when it is effective. I believe this legislation is effective. I can remember years ago, when we had the series of church burnings in the southern part of our Nation, we passed here at that time--it was Lauch Faircloth and myself--additional responsibility for investigation and working with the prosecution by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in these circumstances and enhanced support for local law enforcement and State law enforcement in the prosecution of these church burnings. We saw a dramatic alteration and change in the pattern of church burnings.

My Governor now, Deval Patrick, was the head of the division in the Justice Department during this period of time, when I had a chance to meet him. We find when we take action, when we are serious, we are saying to the American people we are going to fight hate crimes and violence with both hands instead of one hand tied behind our backs, as we are doing now with the restrictions we have, using all our crime-fighting ability, we will be a more fair and safer land. That is what this legislation is about.

I am going to take a few minutes to remind the Senate about why this is a particular issue in the military. It is also outside the military, but I will just mention some of the incidents. The Senator from Oregon mentioned some, but I wish to take a few moments to elaborate on this question.

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.

Crimes motivated by hate because of the victim's race, religion, ethnic background, sexual orientation, disability, or gender are not confined to the geographical boundaries of our great Nation. The current conflicts in the Middle East and Northern Ireland, the ethnic cleansing campaigns in Bosnia and Rwanda, or the Holocaust itself demonstrate that violence motivated by hate is a world-wide danger, and we have a special responsibility to combat it here at home.

This amendment will strengthen the Defense Authorization Act by protecting those who volunteer to serve in the military. The vast majority of our soldiers serve with honor and distinction. These men and women put their lives on the line to ensure our freedom and for that, we are truly grateful.

Sadly, our military bases are not immune from the violence that comes from hatred--and even though members of the military put their lives on the line for us every day--they have not been immune from hate-motivated violence. Just last month, the FBI arrested members of the 82nd Airborne Division in Fayetteville, NC, and charged them with selling stolen military property to an agent they believed was a white supremacist. The pair allegedly sold drugs and bulletproof vests, and were also reportedly interested in selling an Army Humvee and weapons. Officials said the two men had been seen at a white supremacist rally. One of them had a page on the Web with photos of him posing with military weapons, statements about his Nazi heroes, and racist rants from his network of friends.

In December 2006, a Coast Guard procurement officer was given a bad conduct discharge and sentenced to a year in a military brig for posting Ku Klux Klan recruitment fliers on a white supremacist web site, illegally possessing weapons and explosive powder and grenade parts, lying to investigators, and other charges.

In December 1995, two paratroopers in a skinhead gang at Fort Bragg gunned down a black couple in a random, racially motivated double murder that shocked the Nation and led to a major investigation of extremism in the military. The killers were eventually sentenced to life in prison, and 19 other members of their division were dishonorably discharged for neo-Nazi gang activities.

As Senator Smith points out, in 1992, Allen Schindler, a sailor in the Navy was viciously murdered by two fellow sailors because of his sexual orientation. Seven years later, PFC Barry Winchell, an infantry soldier in the Army, was brutally slain for being perceived as gay. These incidents prompted the military to implement guidelines to prevent this type of violence, but there is more that we can do. We have to send a message that these crimes won't be tolerated against any member of society.

These examples clearly demonstrate the relevance of this amendment to the military. We can't tolerate hate-motivated violence and must do all we can to protect our men and women in uniform.

A disturbing trend has also been discovered in the military. Last year, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported that members of hate groups have been entering into the military. As recruiters struggle to fulfill their quotas, they are being forced to accept recruits who may be extremists, putting our soldiers at higher risk of hate motivated violence. This can't be tolerated. We must stem the tide of hatred and bigotry by sending a loud and clear message that hate crimes will be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

Since the September 11 attacks, we have seen a shameful increase in the number of hate crimes committed against Muslims, Sikhs, and Americans of Middle Eastern descent. Congress has done much to respond to the vicious attacks of September 11. We have authorized the use of force against terrorists and those who harbor them in other lands. We have enacted legislation to provide aid to victims and their families, to strengthen airport security, to improve the security of our borders, to strengthen our defenses against bioterrorism, and to give law enforcement and intelligence officials enhanced powers to investigate and prevent terrorism.

Protecting the security of our homeland is a high priority, and there is more that we should do to strengthen our defenses against hate that comes from abroad. There is no reason why Congress should not act to strengthen our defenses against hate that occurs here at home.

Hate crimes are a form of domestic terrorism. They send the poisonous message that some Americans deserve to be victimized solely because of who they are. Like other acts of terrorism, hate crimes have an impact far greater than the impact on the individual victims. They are crimes against entire communities, against the whole Nation, and against the fundamental ideals on which America was founded. They are a violation of all our country stands for.

Since the September 11 attacks, the Nation has been united in our effort to root out the cells of hatred around the world. We should not turn a blind eye to acts of hatred and terrorism here at home.

Attorney General Ashcroft 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.

Now more than ever, we need to act against hate crimes and send a strong message here and around the world that we will not tolerate crimes fueled by hate.

Hate is hate regardless of what nation it originates in. We can send a strong message about the need to eradicate hate crimes throughout the world by passing this hate crimes amendment to the Defense Department authorization bill. The hate crimes amendment we are offering today condemns the poisonous message that some human beings deserve to be victimized solely because of their race, religion, or sexual orientation and must not be ignored. This action is long overdue. When the Senate approves this amendment, we will send a message about freedom and equality that will resonate around the world.

According to FBI statistics, nearly 25 people are victimized each and every day because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnic background, or disability. Some argue that hate crimes are actually decreasing because the total number of hate crimes in 2005 was slightly lower than in 2004. But the FBI data reflects only a fraction of hate crimes, because so many of these crimes routinely go unreported. The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates the total number of hate crimes per year is close to 50,000. Every hate crime is one too many. We need to strengthen the ability of Federal, State and local governments to prevent, investigate and prosecute these vicious and senseless crimes.

The existing Federal hate crime statute was passed in 1968, a few weeks after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was an important step forward at the time, but it is now a generation out of date. The absence of effective legislation has undoubtedly resulted in the failure to solve many hate-motivated crimes. The recent action of the Justice Department in reopening forty civil-rights-era murders demonstrates the need for adequate laws. Many of the victims in these cases have been denied justice for decades, and for some, justice will never come.

Our bill corrects two major deficiencies in current law. Excessive restrictions require proof that victims were attacked because they were engaged in certain ``federally protected activities.'' And the scope of the law is limited, covering hate crimes based on race, religion, or ethnic background alone.

The federally protected activity requirement is outdated, unwise and unnecessary, particularly when we consider the unjust outcomes of this requirement. Hate crimes now occur in a variety of circumstances, and citizens are often targeted during routine activities that should be protected.

For example, in June 2003, six Latino teenagers went to a family restaurant on Long Island. They knew one another from their involvement in community activities and had come together to celebrate one of their birthdays. As they entered the restaurant, three men who were leaving the bar assaulted them, pummeling one boy and severing a tendon in his hand with a sharp weapon. During the attack, the men yelled racial slurs and one identified himself as a skinhead.

Two of the men were tried under the current Federal hate crimes law and were acquitted. The jurors said the Government failed to prove that the attack took place because the victims weren't engaged in a federally protected activity--using the restaurant did not qualify under current law. That case is only one example of the inadequate protection under the current status quo. Our bill will eliminate the federally protected activity requirement. Under this bill, the defendants who left the courtroom as free men would almost certainly have left in handcuffs through a different door.

The bill also recognizes that some hate crimes are committed against people because of their sexual orientation, their gender, their gender identity, or their disability. It is up to Congress to make sure that tough Federal penalties apply to those who commit these types of hate crimes as well. Passing this bill will send a loud and clear message. All hate crimes will face Federal prosecution. Action is long overdue. There are too many stories and too many victims.

In October 2002, two deaf girls in Somerville, MA, one of whom was in a wheelchair from cerebral palsy, were harassed and sexually assaulted by four suspected gang members in a local park. Although the alleged perpetrators were charged in the incident, the assaults could not be charged as hate crimes because there is no Federal protection for a hate crime against a disabled person.

In 1999, four women in Yosemite National Park were attacked by a man who admitted to having fantasized about killing women for most of his life. The current law did not apply to this horrific crime, because enjoyment of a Federal park is not a Federally protected right.

Current law must also be strengthened to deter horrific mass shootings where women are singled out as victims because of their gender.

Crimes against individuals based on sexual orientation or gender identity also cause immense pain and suffering. In 1993, Brandon Teena was raped and beaten in Humboldt, NE, by two male friends. The local sheriff refused to arrest the offenders, and they later shot and stabbed Brandon to death.

In 2001, Fred C. Martinez, Jr., a Navajo, openly gay, transgender youth, was murdered while walking home from a party in Cortez, CO. The killer, Shaun Murphy, had traveled from New Mexico to Colorado with a friend in order to sell illegal drugs. He met Fred at a carnival that night, and the next morning, while driving, he saw Fred walking down the street. Shaun and his friend offered Fred a ride and dropped him off close to home. Shortly thereafter, Shaun attacked Fred and beat him to death with a large rock. His body was discovered several days later. The attackers bragged about this vicious crime, describing the victim with vulgar epithets.

The killer could not be charged with a hate crime, because no State or Federal law protecting gender identity existed. He received a 40 year sentence under a plea agreement, and will be eligible for parole in 25 years. His victim did not live long enough to see his 20th birthday.

These examples graphically illustrate the senseless brutality our fellow citizens face simply for being who they are. They also highlight the importance of passing this legislation.

The vast majority of us in Congress have recognized the need for this legislation since it was first introduced--nearly 10 years ago. With the support of 31 cosponsors, Senator Smith and I urge your support of this bipartisan bill.

The House has come through on their side and passed the bill. Now it is time for the Senate to do the same. This year, we can get it done. We came close twice before. In 2000 and 2002, a majority of Senators voted to pass this legislation. In 2004, we had 65 votes for the bill and it was adopted as part of the Defense authorization bill. But--that time--it was stripped out in conference.

This year, we have an opportunity to pass it in both the Senate and the House, and enact it into law. We can't afford to lose this opportunity. We must do all we can to end these senseless crimes.

Mr. President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.


Skip to top

Help us stay free for all your Fellow Americans

Just $5 from everyone reading this would do it.

Back to top