Remarks of the Deputy Attorney General
American Jewish Congress Domestic and International
Washington Policy Forum
Westin Fairfax Hotel, Washington, D.C.
December 6, 1999

Thank you and good morning. I am pleased to have the opportunity to discuss with you today two of the most pressing issues this country is currently facing gun violence and hate crimes. But before I begin, I would like to take this chance to thank you for the tireless efforts you have already made to address these problems. Consistent with your well deserved reputation for identifying, discussing, and resolving some of the most vexing social ills facing our nation, the American Jewish Congress has been a particularly effective leader in confronting gun violence and hate crimes. I am proud to stand before you today as we join in solidarity to improve the lives of all Americans.

The fast approaching Millenium has inspired many to assess where we stand as a nation. In doing so, we should feel incredibly proud and incredibly fortunate to be American citizens. Our wealth and our power as a nation are unparalleled. We are a bastion of freedom, a paragon of democracy and an exemplar of generosity. We are the envy of all. And yet, our social fabric continues to be torn by the insidious effects of hate and violence. If, in the new Millenium, we are to continue to be a "good" nation in addition to being a "great" nation, we must address these two problems fearlessly, tirelessly and forcefully.

Two events from this past summer underscore the immediacy of this challenge. Who here can forget the shootings on July 4th , of all days, of a black man, Ricky Birdsong, while jogging with his children, the shooting on the same day of a group of Jewish men returning from Sabbath services, and the subsequent shooting of Won Joon Yoon as he stood outside his church. The motivations of the perpetrator? Hate. The means of the perpetrator? A gun. And who here can ever forget the August 10th shooting at a Jewish day care center and the subsequent murder of a postal worker of Filipino descent. The motivation of the perpetrator? Hate. The means of the perpetrator? A gun. These incidents are just recent examples of the toxic mix that still flows through the veins of some segments of our society. And no segment of our society is truly safe until this poison is bled dry from the heart of America. Gun violence and hate crimes can be stopped. Gun crimes and hate violence must be stopped.

Hate is like a virus. It lurks in the body of our great nation and is only combated successfully when exposed and dealt with. We cannot pretend that the problem is no longer existent or is not of concern. I know this. The people in this room know this. Our people, perhaps more than most given our experiences in this country and elsewhere, know that hate has been, and is, an issue that must concern all of the American nation. This is an age old problem- but it is also a man made problem that is susceptible to man made solutions. We must expose the purveyors of hate for what they truly are, we must shield our young from them and where they do cross the line we must impose maximum sanctions.

The dead, injured and displaced of this century can only be honored in the next Millenium if we act as one community, one nation, to eradicate the hate that led directly to the excesses that occurred in the course of the past hundred years.

When attacks are initiated because the victims look different, practice a different faith, or have a different sexual orientation, America's most fundamental beliefs are threatened. They represent an assault, not just on the individual, but also on the community. That is why a hate crime is different from a similar crime not motivated by the same animus. And no society no matter how strong, can withstand such traumas indefinitely. We must act, and we must act now.

Just as the American Jewish Congress has been active in this regard, so has the Department of Justice. Many of you are familiar with the Justice Department's Hate Crimes Initiative that was set in motion two years ago under my leadership at the direction of the President and Vice-President. I am pleased to say that this Initiative has seen continued development and concrete results, and is beginning to make a real difference. One of the core principles of this effort has been to obtain community "buy-in." In that regard, I asked the U.S. Attorney's offices nationwide to create Hate Crimes Working Groups. These groups include federal, state and local prosecutors, FBI and ATF agents, community leaders and educators. Their mission is to assess the hate crime problem in their local areas and to develop specific, effective strategies to respond to the problem. While local law enforcement has the primary role in responding to these crimes, I believe that it is essential for federal law enforcement to provide additional investigative resources, to prosecute those crimes where a federal rather than a state response is appropriate, and to assist with law enforcement training. By involving community organizations in these working groups, we are enhancing our ability to prosecute these crimes. Community support makes it easier to uncover information, enlist witnesses to testify, and solve cases. It is high time that we in Washington recognize the fact that we don't know all the answers to problems, and that serving as constructive partners with our counterparts at the state and local level and with highly respected organizations such as the American Jewish Congress is essential to being effective.

The Working Groups have reported to me that they are experimenting with different methods of raising the awareness of law enforcement to the problem of hate crimes. We at Main Justice have begun to act as an information collection point to ensure that the techniques that work best are made known to other offices. In addition, we have developed four separate model hate crimes training curricula targeted at various levels of local law enforcement, including patrol and responding officers, investigators, detectives and supervisory and policy-making officers. These curricula have been used to train local law enforcement officers throughout the country, and the Department has set up teams of experienced trainers in every state.

In addition, with the understanding that many of our efforts must focus on our youth, we have undertaken efforts to alert the education community to the problem of hate-based behavior in our schools. A manual entitled "Preventing Youth Hate Crime," circulated jointly by the Departments of Justice and Education, has been a vital part of this effort. This manual tells educators how to teach children about conflict resolution and how to deal with hate. If we are to eradicate hate, we must begin by educating and enlightening our school children. Tolerance is most easily taught to, and accepted by, the young.

One way we can confront the problem of hate crime is to analyze it statistically. And yet the under-reporting of hate crimes continues to be a problem. Put simply, there are too many jurisdictions not reporting offenses. In 1998, 10,461 participating agencies reported a total of 7,755 hate crimes. That amounts to one hate crime every 75 minutes. But we know that even this appalling number significantly underestimates the extent of the problem. Many victims do not report hate crimes. Many police departments do not collect hate crime data or report no hate crimes even when most observers conclude that a problem exists. Furthermore, the 10,461 agencies that participated in the 1998 data collection effort represent 750 fewer than those who participated the previous year -- for reasons we have yet to determine.

The recognition and reporting of hate crimes is, however, just a small part of the equation. We must also ensure that hate crimes are investigated thoroughly, prosecuted swiftly and punished soundly. Although our long term goal must be to prevent hate crimes by addressing bias before it manifests itself in violent criminal activity, in the meantime, it is imperative that we have the law enforcement tools necessary to ensure that, when hate crimes do occur, the perpetrators are identified and swiftly brought to justice. Unfortunately, there are serious gaps in current federal hate crimes laws that continue to impede our efforts.

The current federal hate crimes law has two serious deficits. First, even in the most blatant cases of racial, ethnic, or religious violence, no federal jurisdiction exists unless we can prove that the victim was also targeted because he or she was engaged in a "federally protected activity." This unnecessary, extra requirement has led to acquittals in several of the cases that the Department of Justice has prosecuted. Moreover, it has greatly limited our exercise of federal jurisdiction in other cases. This limitation on jurisdiction not only prevents us from prosecuting cases, it also prevents us from engaging in successful collaborative efforts with state and local law enforcement agencies.

The dragging death of James Byrd is an excellent example of how important federal jurisdiction can be. There, the FBI aided a relatively small jurisdiction in Texas with its forensic and laboratory expertise, while the U.S. Attorney's Office assisted in the trial and death penalty phase regarding one of the defendants. The level of collaboration in Jasper was possible only because we had a colorable claim of federal jurisdiction in that matter.

The second serious deficit in our current federal law is that our primary hate crime statute fails to cover hate crimes based on the victim's sexual orientation, gender, or disability. Together, these limitations have prevented the federal government from working with state and local law enforcement agencies in the investigation and prosecution of many of the most egregious hate crimes.

For these reasons, the Department strongly supported, and I testified before Congress urging, passage of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 1999. This bill would have amended current federal law to address each of these limitations. In cases involving racial, ethnic or religious violence, the bill would have negated the need to show that the victim was participating in one of the six specifically enumerated "federally protected activities." In cases where a hate crime was based upon the victim's sexual orientation, gender or disability, the bill would have conveyed federal jurisdiction whenever the incident involved or affected interstate commerce. Although Congress has failed to pass the bill this year, our need for such changes has not dissipated. Congress must act on this bill early in the next session.

Turning to gun violence, there is some room for optimism. Over the past seven years, the number of violent crimes committed with firearms has dropped more than 35%. There is little question that this dramatic drop in crime is due to a variety of factors, one of the most important being the Department of Justice's increased emphasis on working cooperatively with state and local law enforcement and the presence of increased numbers of police officers on the streets. The Department has encouraged collaborative efforts to develop gun violence reduction strategies tailored to each community. Our enforcement efforts have led to an increase in the number of gun criminals going to jail, and to an increase in the number of serious offenders doing time in federal prison.

Another important reason for the reduction in gun crime is that community groups have joined forces with each other and with law enforcement to take back their streets and make their communities a safer place for themselves and for their children. And finally the decrease in gun crime is also due to the effectiveness of laws that keep guns out of the wrong hands in the first place -- like the Brady Law, which, since 1993, has prevented over 400,000 felons, fugitives, and other prohibited people from obtaining guns from federally licensed gun dealers.

But much like current hate crimes enforcement efforts, our efforts to reduce gun violence are significantly impeded because critical law enforcement tools are missing. We need legislation that extends the Brady Law's protection to all sales at gun shows, not just those that are done by licensed dealers. We need legislation that requires safety locks to be provided with all new handguns sold, and that bans the possession of all imported weapons and clips. These are modest but important measures that will help in our constant battle against gun violence. We think it makes good sense to build on the success of the things we know have worked to reduce crime before another Columbine occurs and before another person on their way home from their house of worship falls victim to the brutality of gun violence.

Understanding fully the challenge of pressing forward for change during these distracting times, I applaud your continued efforts to seek solutions to these serious problems. Thank you for helping to keep these issues at the forefront of the American consciousness. The passion with which you proceed not only inspires others to act, it demonstrates your recognition and understanding that seeking to protect the rights of those who are the least protected under our statutes is tantamount to protecting the life and liberty of us all.

We must never forget and must always honor the memories of those who have been victims of hate. We must keep alive in the consciousness of our nation the victims of 20th century hate - whether the they be found in Texas or in Illinois on a warm July 4th , whether they be black, Jewish, gay or Asian American - or whether they be found in Auschwitz or Dachau. These victims are tragically and inextricably linked. When a nation turns its back on the hate problem, when it is unwilling to confront its purveyors, history has shown us what the consequences can be. We must not allow the people of our nation to forget the hard lessons of the past century. But we must also be optimistic. We have at our disposal the means by which hate can ultimately be cleansed from the American soul. We can teach tolerance more effectively than those who teach hate. We can glory in our diversity and not be threatened by it. We can fully embrace, finally, those principles upon which this great nation was founded. If we do these things, if we remember our past and work hard in the present, if we truly value all of our people, the next hundred years can be, to an even greater extent than the 1900's, the American century. I look forward to continuing to work with you, wherever I am and whatever I am doing, in this great endeavor.

Thank you.