Remarks of Eric H. Holder, Jr.

Deputy Attorney General

"Hate Crimes: A Model Response"

Sharonville Convention Center

Sharonville, OH

June 21, 1999

Thank you for such a warm welcome. I am delighted to be a part of this extraordinary summit on hate crimes sponsored by the United States Attorney's office for the Southern District of Ohio and its Hate Crimes Working Group. I thank my friend United States Attorney Sharon Zealey for extending me an invitation. To everyone who worked so hard to make this day a reality, I offer you my sincerest congratulations on a job well done. I know that we will all come away inspired and enriched. And to those who have been involved in the effort to combat hate crimes in this area I offer my thanks. Only when more people like yourselves become involved in similar efforts in other parts of our great nation will the problem of hate crime be ended.

Eliminating hate crimes and eliminating bigotry and bitterness are among this country's most important, and enduring, challenges. There is never an excuse for violence against innocent persons. And we must all understand that these kinds of attacks - committed because the victims look different, practice a different faith, or have a different sexual orientation - threaten America's most cherished ideals. They represent an attack not just on the individual victim but also on the victim's community- and they diminish us all.. And their impact is broader because they send a message of hate. They are intended to create fear.

Tragically, bias-related crimes and the hatred that fuels them remain a fundamental problem in our society. My experience has been that the virus of hatred has spread far beyond its historical roots of racism. As a former United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, I found that Asian merchants were often targeted for robberies and assaults not only because they were shopkeepers, but also because they were Korean or Chinese or Vietnamese. The brutality of some of these attacks seemed at least partly motivated by misplaced resentment against their success, and rank prejudice against their nationalities.

My office also witnessed an alarming number of violent incidents against individuals based on their sexual orientation. In one case, a man approached two individuals sitting on a park bench and repeatedly asked them in a loud voice, "Are you homosexual?" He then picked up a stick and broken bottles and started beating one of the them. The defendant proudly testified at trial that "When homosexuals die, they will burn in hell."

These incidents and other hate crimes like them are not just a law enforcement problem. They are a problem for the entire community: for our schools, for our religious institutions, for our civic organizations and for each one of us as individuals. And when we come together to respond to these crimes, as you have done over the months and as we do today, we help build communities that are safer, stronger and more tolerant.

Our first step, is to gain a better understanding of the problem. The truth is the data we have now is inadequate. As a result of the Hate Crimes Statistics Act, enacted in 1990, the FBI began collecting information from law enforcement agencies around the country. In 1991, the first year that the FBI reported its findings, 2,700 law enforcement agencies reported 4,560 hate crimes. In 1997, the last year for which we have statistics, 11,211 law enforcement agencies participated in the data collection program and reported 8,049 hate crime incidents.

These numbers alone are a significant concern. 8,049 hate crime incidents represent almost one hate crime incident per hour. One incident per hour. But we know that even this disturbing number significantly underestimates the true level of hate crimes. Many victims do not report hate crimes. Many police departments do not collect any hate crime data. And about 80 percent of those that do, even some in large metropolitan areas, report few or no hate crimes in their jurisdictions, even when most observers conclude a larger problem exists.

There are many ways to improve our data collection. First and foremost, increased hate crime training for law enforcement officials is essential. Police officers must know how to identify the signs of a hate crime. What might appear to some as a crime like so many others, upon investigation can turn out to be one that is motivated by bias.

As many of you know, about a year and a half ago, the Department of Justice launched a multi-faceted Hate Crimes Initiative. Improving data collection and enhancing law enforcement training are key components of the initiative. To meet these goals, we recently commissioned a study by Northeastern University to survey some 2,500 law enforcement agencies in order to better understand and improve upon police reporting practices, and we brought together state police academies, police chiefs, state attorneys general and others around the country to develop uniform curricula for hate crime training.

As a result of these efforts, the Department now has available three law enforcement training curricula on hate crimes -- for all levels of investigators. I am very proud of these curricula. They offer each level of officer an "A to Z" handbook for approaching hate crimes as well as a general overview of the topic. Moreover, we have held three regional "train-the-trainer" sessions to instruct qualified trainers on the ins-and-outs of these new curricula. In each state, there is at least one team of three trainers available to teach these curricula.

But increased opportunities for law enforcement training are only one piece of the reporting puzzle. We must encourage victims to report incidents of hate crime. The reasons for underreporting of hate crime by victims are varied. In some immigrant communities, there is a fear that reporting crimes may lead to reprisals. Language and cultural barriers may also impede reporting. Many gay and lesbian crime victims do not report incidents to the police because they fear mistreatment or disclosure of their sexual orientation.

Generally it can be said that too often the victim is the forgotten person in our criminal justice system. This is especially true where the victim has suffered through a hate crime. Throughout the system, we have to make the process understandable for all, so that all victims are encouraged to report the crime. Our local working groups, which I will turn to in a few moments, can help in this endeavor.

Identification and reporting are, of course, not a complete answer. We must also ensure that potential hate crimes are investigated thoroughly, prosecuted swiftly and punished appropriately. We must give lie to the notion that there is no difference between an assault and an assault that is motivated by bias. The differences are very, very real.

One thing we know for certain, is that we are most effective when we work together. Just as hate crimes are a community problem, they require community solutions. The centerpiece of the Department's Hate Crime Initiative is the formation of local working groups in each of the United States Attorney districts. Here in the Southern District of Ohio and throughout the country, these task forces are hard at work bringing together the FBI, the U.S. Attorney's office, local law enforcement, community leaders and educators to coordinate our response to hate crimes. These working groups recognize that while local law enforcement has the primary role in responding to and pursuing these crimes, federal law enforcement can provide additional resources and can assist with training.

By convening this summit, your working group is a shining example to others. In bringing together local, state, and federal law enforcement as well as community leaders for education and training, you are modeling the coordinated community effort so essential to an effective hate crimes response.

As Southern Ohio has learned first-hand, by involving community organizations in our local working groups, we are enhancing our ability to prosecute these crimes. Quite simply we are more effective when we enjoy the trust and support of the community. Community support makes it easier to uncover information, to enlist witnesses to testify, and to solve cases. But involving the community is not just about effective enforcement, it's about better prevention efforts as well. As a United States Attorney, - I learned that prosecutors feel better about themselves and their jobs if they get involved at the front end of these crimes - before they occur - rather than waiting on the sidelines to become involved only afterwards. This feeling is one that I also found shared by others in law enforcement as well.

As many of you are aware, there is federal jurisdiction for prosecuting hate crimes, and we have made these cases a top priority. While most hate crimes are investigated and prosecuted at the state level, we want to make sure that federal jurisdiction to prosecute hate crimes covers everything that it should. Over the past few years, we have taken a comprehensive look at one of our principal federal hate crime laws and decided that it needs to be strengthened. To this end, we proposed to Congress last year and reintroduced again this year, a bill that would expand our ability to prosecute.

Current law prohibits certain hate crimes committed on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin. Under the proposed Hate Crimes Prevention Act, federal law would be expanded to cover acts committed on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, or disability. The Act will also remedy a second deficiency in current law. Right now, we must prove not only that a defendant committed an offense because of the victim's race, color, religion, or national origin, but also because of the victim's participation in one of six narrowly defined "federally protected activities." This extra intent requirement, which was written into the law some 30 years ago, is neither appropriate nor necessary in our modern society. And it can lead to truly bizarre results.

For example, federal jurisdiction will probably be upheld if a racially-motivated assault occurs on a public sidewalk. But we may not be able to bring a federal charge if the same attack occurs in a private parking lot across the street. And if a crime takes place in a convenience store, our jurisdiction over places of entertainment may not be triggered unless there is a video game inside the store. Federal jurisdiction should not hinge upon such unnecessary and illogical distinctions.

This new bill is a good fix. Last April, in a Roosevelt Room ceremony, President Clinton joined with a bipartisan group of legislators to urge its swift passage. Testifying before the United States Senate Judiciary Committee last month, I was pleased to join my voice with his to offer my strong support of this bill.

But the battle must be fought not just for changes in our laws but for changes in our hearts as well.

We must look at, we must come to understand, the root causes of hate crime. Intolerance often begins not with a violent act, but with a small indignity or bigoted remark. To move forward as one community, we must work against the stereotypes and prejudices that spawn these actions. We must foster understanding and respect in our homes and our neighborhoods; in our schools and on our college campuses. We must not lose sight of the fact that integration- integration by race, ethnicity, sexual orientation- integration is a very good thing. We seemed to know this thirty five years ago- we fought for it. And now at the close of this century we must battle for it again because social interaction does not allow the virus of stereotyping to grow.

Hate is learned. Hate can be unlearned. We must engage our schools in the crucial task of combating hate by teaching our children moral values and social responsibility. Educators can play a vital role in preventing the development of the prejudice and the stereotyping that leads to hate crime. I am pleased that the Department will be assisting a new partnership announced recently by the President in its efforts to develop a program for middle school students on tolerance and diversity.

Americans must simply learn to communicate with each other. Not in advertisement cliches and 30-second TV sound-bites, but in honest words of thought and feeling. This interaction will not always be pleasant at first but if we are to truly talk to one another we must be prepared to hear things we may not understand or agree with. This is the first step in talking to one another and not at one another and is the initial step in combating stereotypes and fighting hate. We must learn to solve problems together. We must start early in our schools teaching our children how to resolve conflicts and disagreements without knives, guns and fists.

But we must also understand that this kind of education is an ongoing process and must be continued outside the classroom and throughout the course of our lives.

Where does hatred start? Hatred starts oftentimes in an individual who feels alone, confused and unsupported. Hatred starts with someone who believes he has no control over his life and who illogically lashes out at others. I look at a young hate crime perpetrator and I know that at many points along the way, we could have intervened and helped him take a different path. We must recognize those points and craft effective ways to redirect the anger that fuels hate. We have to invest in our children. We have to help them grow in strength, to acquire positive values, and to have respect for others. These are the things that are the true basis of a good education.

As you leave this summit pledge to go back to your communities and continue this effort. Hate, though learned, is one of man's most enduring traits. You must persevere in your struggle against it and must be steadfast in your determination to see the battle through. The problem will not be solved in weeks or months or even over a few years. But it can be solved for this is a man made problem susceptible to man made remedies. Your courage, your commitment to this cause, will be needed in the years ahead for in your works, and in your hearts, lie the ultimate solutions.

Thank you.