AMERICAN-ARAB ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE
CONFERENCE ON "SHAPING THE FUTURE"
SPEECH OF ATTORNEY GENERAL JANET RENO
Friday, June 12, 1998
Marriott Crystal Gateway Hotel
1700 Jefferson Davis Highway
(STATEMENT OF HON. JANET RENO, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Attorney General Reno: Thank you so much, Senator. And I thank you all for
the opportunity to be here with you today, to join you for your 15th National
The ADC is such an active participant in this nation's dialogue on civil and
human rights. Your voice is heard, for you represent the best, most wonderful
traditions of this country in your vigilance against discrimination and your vigilance
against stereotyping, as you speak out against bigotry and cowardice in this world.
You are an important entity ensuring that our discussion is not when we
discuss civil rights that we do not discuss it in terms of divisions. But you bring a
positive course of reconciliation through that discussion that is so critically important.
We meed to follow your example across this nation and speak out, for haters
are cowards. If we confront them, they back down.
And one of the things that I will always remember for as long as I live was the
year I spent in Germany as a 13-year-old right after the war.
I asked how Hitler had come to power. People said, "It just happened." ADC
will make sure that it speaks out, and we should follow your example.
Attorney General Reno: About two months ago, Deputy Attorney General Eric
Holder and Acting Assistant Attorney General, Bill Lann Lee sat down with members
of the Arab American Muslim communities to talk about issues of mutual concern.
That meeting was extremely helpful for the Justice Department, for we need to
talk honestly about problems, about differences in our perspective between the
government and your community, and about solutions we can pursue together.
We may have disagreements from time to time, but we share so much common
ground in the importance of community and family, equal treatment under the law,
and firm but fair law enforcement.
The Justice Department is staunchly committed to ensuring that all Americans
are treated in a fair and just manner.
I hope that you will agree that after this meeting that we have entered a new era
of dialogue between the Department and the Arab and Muslim communities.
I am personally committed to this effort. Together, we need to build a lasting
relationship with trust and understanding as the hallmark of that relationship, with an
ability to communicate together and say what is on our minds.
One area where we can work together is on fostering a greater understanding of
the importance of diversity in this country, of the importance of eliminating racial
bigotry and stereotypes.
Diversity is valued, and it is prized. We learn to appreciate each other and
each other's struggles. From diversity, we draw our enormous and our lasting
Stereotypes should never influence policy or public opinion. We are
committed to ensuring that our laws are enforced without prejudice or favor; and that
federal, state and local law enforcement work together as partners to do all that is
necessary to ensure compliance with the civil rights standards.
We must redouble our efforts to ensure that equal justice under the law means
the same thing in minority communities as it does in the larger community.
The keystone to justice is the belief that the legal system treats all fairly. And
when people have the feeling that they are not being treated fairly, they call to
question the rule of law.
There is a wonderful statement on the wall of the Justice building on the east
side of 9th Street that says, "The common law issues from the will of mankind, issues
from the people, framed by the mutual confidence and sanctioned by the light of
It means that if the law is to be what we hope it to be in this nation, that the law
must issue from all of the people, be framed by mutual confidence of all of the people.
In the Justice Department, we recognize the importance of critically reviewing
our efforts to ensure that stereotypes and prejudice, whether conscious or unconscious,
do not creep into the work that we do.
I think it is incumbent on all of law enforcement to do the same. All of the
citizens must respect the law. But the law must respect all of our citizens.
Now, there will be issues about which we have disagreement. Use of
confidential evidence in INS proceedings is one. But disagreement should not rise to
the level of fear or distrust of the government.
We are reviewing our work every month to ensure that we apply procedures
fairly and appropriately. And we want to be able to dialogue with you and
communicate with you to obtain any evidence, to follow any leads that indicates that
we are not adhering to these precepts.
It is going to be important in obtaining this dialogue. I recognize that the
Arab-American community feels that there are examples of stereotyping. There is a
direct link between false perceptions of the Arab-American community and acts of
harassment. And I think we should acknowledge that and look at what we can do.
For example, reports of harassment, bigotry and violence against Arab-Americans and Muslims increases during periods of international strife, such as the
Gulf War. After the bombing of the Oklahoma City, unfounded accusations in the
media aimed at the community fueled ill will towards American citizens of Arab
heritage. And we saw a surge of anti-Arab sentiment.
I urged then, as I do now, and as I will continue to do, that no group or person
should be judged by where they came from, their religious affiliations, their
They should be judged by who they are.
Attorney General Reno: We cannot let anti-Arab or anti-immigrant feelings
infiltrate our speech in America, our feelings in America, our actions in America. We
have got to think this is one great, magnificent nation that is made great by the
magnificent diversity of its people and the threads and the traditions of cultures from
around the world.
Attorney General Reno: We must respond when hate speaks out. We must do
everything we can to prevent violence based on hate or bigotry. But when that
violence comes, we must join together.
We have just seen in Jasper, Texas, an example that hate and bigotry in its
worst and most tragic form is still with us. None of us can relax while that happens in
History should not inspire us to bitterness, though. We should take these
examples and instead of bitterness, we should aspire as to how we can come together
and, through positive communication, through reaching out, to make a true difference.
This is why an America that celebrates our diversity must be our national
commitment. We have arrived from all corners of the world, all kinds of backgrounds,
for we share in the American dream that ours is a fair and more equal society, where
we can reach our potentials through hard work and commitment. We can strive to the
best without leaving anyone behind.
The benefits of diversity are seen in the classrooms, where exposure to
different perspectives is both enlightening and stimulating. It encourages students to
question and challenge themselves and challenge others.
Diversity in law enforcement helps reduce racial tensions and brings trust and
understanding between communities and those who protect them.
Diversity in our health professions has led to greater medical services being
accessible to underserved and disadvantaged communities.
Would you want your child to be in a classroom where everybody was just like
him or her? They would not get the understanding or the strength of America. They
would not have the force that has made this nation great.
Would you want a minority community to go underserved, because no one
knew how to relate to them in terms of medical care?
Let us reach out and make sure that in our colleges, in our universities, in our
law schools, in our medical schools, in K through 12, in preschool programs, all of
Americans have an opportunity to participate together.
Recently, I went to a program at Temple University. I sat in a room with about
20 students. They came from so many different walks of life.
One young man told me what it was like to be the only black in a small
Pennsylvanian town. It was extraordinary. And then when he came to Philadelphia,
I learned more in an hour about how we can do better at living together and
understanding than I have learned in a very long time.
It does not make any difference how much you think you believe in diversity.
It is so important that you reach out and to appreciate and to learn and to understand
how to talk with others.
And as is true with the work of the ADC, diversity brings new issues to the
table. It makes us aware of things we have never thought of before. It ensures that we
do not leave anyone behind.
A very great deal can be accomplished by sitting down face to face and
hashing out our ideas, our feelings, our differences, in a setting that is based on mutual
I try to do that with the lawyers with the Department of Justice. They like to
litigate a lot. And I have tried to show them that through other means of dispute
resolution, through problem solving and communications, we can sometimes solve the
problem more effectively and at far less cost if we sit down and talk it out, rather than
going to the courtroom and litigating.
We are working with the police officers to train them in how to resolve
disputes without force, without intent and antagonism, but with a right tone of voice,
with good body language, with understanding and respect.
And most of all, we are participating in programs where children are learning
to resolve disputes without knives and guns and fists.
I have a dream in this nation that every teacher in America will be taught how
to teach children to resolve conflicts without knives, and guns, and fists, that every
police officer in basic law enforcement academies around this country will be taught
how to resolve conflicts on the streets with a minimum of force.
Just think, if we work together, we can build a new generation, a generation
that is a problem-solver, rather than a generation that uses the sword.
The controversy surrounding the relocation of the Saudi-Islamic Academy in
Ashburn, Virginia, not far from here, is an example of what people can do when they
sit down and talk out a problem.
Flyers were distributed in late December 1997 telling homeowners that the
school that was being moved into their community would bring Muslim and Arab
terrorists to Loudoun, and that "thousands of Middle Eastern strangers would be
roaming our streets while we work."
The flyers raised community tensions and disrupted a community that had been
relatively free of bigotry and hatred. What could -- can and should be done about such
a hurtful and harmful flyer? Talk can go a long way.
Our community relations service at the Department of Justice met with county
officials, law enforcement and community leaders, including clergy from a church
near the proposed school site, who assessed community tensions and maintained calm
during the community forums.
The forums were the largest community meetings in the County, with hundreds
of citizens registering to speak. We tried to work with all of the parties to ameliorate
the tension and then to improve communications.
The Board of Supervisors and planning and zoning officials approved the
proposed plan for relocating the school. And community tension on the issue has
Indeed, the controversy has prompted many residents of Ashburn to speak out
in favor of tolerance, against bigotry and in favor of the academy.
We can make a difference if we talk with each other throughout this time.
Sometimes, as you are aware, however, hatred goes beyond mere pamphlets.
One of the most visible and destructive signs that our nation's promise of equality is
not yet a reality is the prevalence of hate crimes.
We see evidence of abiding bigotry and intolerance in awful violence, burned
mosques and churches, vandalized homes and bombed buildings. These senseless
attacks committed solely because the victim has a different color of skin or practices a
different religion cannot be tolerated.
The Justice Department currently has jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute
hate crimes committed because of the victim's race, color, religion or national origin.
But the federal hate crime statutes do not permit us to investigate or prosecute offenses
committed because of a victim's disability, gender or sexual orientation.
In addition, current federal law contains an often problematic and unnecessary
hurdle for prosecutors. And this is very important. The law now requires the
government prove that the victim was attacked not only because of his or her race,
color, religion or national origin, but was attacked while participating in one of a
narrowly defined set of so-called federally protected activity.
This unnecessary requirement has limited the federal government's ability to
prosecute some of the most heinous hate crimes.
For example, under current law, the federal government can prosecute a violent
hate crime if it occurs in the parking lot of a public school, but not if it occurs across
the street in the private yard of a family home.
Similarly, the federal government can prosecute a violent hate crime that
occurs in a 7-Eleven if the store has a video game, but not if it does not have this kind
of entertainment on the premises. It does not make sense.
We must correct the serious shortcomings of the present law. Senators
Kennedy, Specter and White and Congressmen Schumer, McCollum and Conyers
have been true leaders in this effort.
They have introduced bipartisan legislation that would ensure that our federal
criminal laws address a more comprehensive range of violent hate crimes that are
perpetrated against all Americans.
This legislation is a thoughtful and measured response to a serious and ever-
present problem faced by countless Americans across the country.
Twenty-two state attorneys general have written Senators Hatch and Leahy to
express their enthusiastic and strong support for this Hate Crimes Prevention Act of
In that letter, they write about this legislation as such, "This legislation is a
These are state attorneys general saying that this legislation is a necessary
supplement to state hate-crime enforcement efforts to address bias-motivated
Hate crimes are the most visible sign that the promise of equality made by our
Constitution is not yet a reality. We see evidence of abiding bigotry and intolerance.
These acts ruin the lives of their victims. They make all of our citizens feel
vulnerable. They divide our communities, and they destroy our spirit.
The most recent FBI statistics on the number of hate crimes reported to state
and local enforcement reveal a total of 9,000 bias-motivated crimes reported in 1996.
More than 5,000 -- we must take action.
We must work together as we are trying to do with state and local law
enforcement to ensure that no stone is left unturned in such crimes and that the people
responsible are brought to justice.
ADC has been instrumental in efforts against hate crimes by assembling
information against attacks -- about attacks against Arab-Americans and Muslims.
Your annual report documents the awful impact in your community. We
appreciate your efforts, and it is critical that you continue these efforts.
It is critical that we also do everything to ensure that state and local law
enforcement is appropriately reporting these types of crimes, so that we can have a fair
measure of what we need in terms of resources to properly investigate and prosecute
But as your report recognizes, far too often, reporting is impeded by a number
of factors. Immigrant communities often fear that reporting crimes may lead to
reprisals. Language and cultural barriers can impede reporting. Other victims may be
discouraged to report hate crimes because of disgust of law enforcement.
We need your help in addressing these concerns.
As part of our national hate crimes initiative, I have asked each United States
attorney -- 93 United States attorneys -- I have asked each one to form a hate crimes
task force, bringing together federal and local law enforcement with community
groups, civil rights groups and victims advocates.
I would urge you -- I would ask you please to join us in these working groups
in your community. You could play such a vital role.
Now, we know that sometimes you have felt that the relationship between the
FBI and many in the Arab and Muslim community has sometimes been troubled. And
I want to assure you that we are committed to a new and a better understanding.
Let us reach out in both directions. When there is a hate crime against
someone in your community, please notify the FBI. The hate crimes unit here in
Washington is authorized to pursue vigorously the investigation of these incidents.
And they should be notified if there are any concerns whatsoever about the accuracy of
Our federal law enforcement agencies must also understand the particular
needs of communities. After meeting with Arab and Muslim groups, the National
Hate Crimes Unit at the FBI has begun to do just that.
The FBI has recently been designated the point of contact for -- has recently
designated a point of contact within each regional office to create a relationship with
community groups including the Arab and Muslim community.
And we hope that you will join and ensure that this contact, this liaison is not
just a matter of greeting each other over a cup of coffee at a community meeting, but
that it is real, actual dialogue that can improve the working relationship.
Finally, I would like to address an additional concern that has often been
raised to me. And that is passenger screening for airline flights.
At the request of the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and
Security and the Department of Transportation, the Department of Justice conducted a
pre-implementation civil rights review of the computerized passenger screening
system known as CAPS that the FAA has begun to implement.
We were guided by recommendations by a civil liberties panel to ensure that
the criteria used in the system were not based on constitutionally suspect categories,
such as race, ethnicity, religion or national origin.
We were concerned, as you were, about allegations that Arab-American
passengers were targeted for additional security measures and treated in a
discriminatory and disrespectful manner.
We needed to ensure a more objective system. The CAPS system is presently
being implemented, and the Civil Rights Division will conduct a first implementation
The Division has recently reached out to the Department of Transportation
regarding the review and to solicit any complaints that they may have.
I urge you to utilize the Department of Transportation's complaint process. It
is a real process, and the department is committed to it. Those complaints and how
they are handled will be part of our post-implementation review.
The airline consumer protection staff at the Department of Transportation's
general counsel's office is designated to receive the complaints.
DOT and the Civil Rights Division will also be meeting with the airlines on
training and about proper ways to conduct the procedures in a non-discriminatory,
appropriately respectful manner.
In the end, we have the same interest, that regardless of race, national origin,
political affiliation, religion, we are all treated equally and fairly.
As attorney general, as I look out on people, I want to think that every
American citizen would be treated in exactly the same way as I would want the dearest
member of my family to be, by the government. That should be our goal.
We must also remember that we are all diminished if any one of us is subject to
discrimination based on race, faith, or where we were born.
ADC is not just about American-Arabs or Muslims. You are about what we
are all desiring, a fair chance, dignity and respect.
I want to do something now, and that is to follow-up on my commitment to
dialogue. I understand my staff said no questions, but I have a question for you. And
let us just spend a few moments initiating a dialogue.
If you were the attorney general of the United States, what would you do to
address the issues that I've raised today?