Skip to main content

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke Delivers Remarks at the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office’s Hate Crimes Summit


Providence, RI
United States

Remarks as Delivered

Good afternoon! It is a privilege to be with you today. I want to start by thanking Attorney General Peter Neronha for the invitation. The Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office has worked tirelessly to protect civil rights by combating hate crimes while ensuring public safety for all Rhode Islanders. This office has championed efforts to reduce gun violence, address the opioid crisis, and safeguard our environment while advancing criminal justice, ensuring consumer protections, and more. The unwavering commitment of this office to justice and equity has significantly impacted the state, fostering a safer and more inclusive community for all. Successes in this space are a testament to the importance of the work of the dedicated public servants of this office. To each and every one of you, please know that by protecting civil rights, you are making a difference today, and laying the ground work for a more just and equitable future.

As Attorney General Merrick Garland often reminds the public—one of the founding principles of the U.S. Department of Justice was to counter the violence and terrorism of white supremacist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan. In addition to the violence and intimidation levied against communities, members of these organizations held power across society, making equality, freedom, and justice nearly impossible.

Today, the Justice Department’s mission is to uphold the rule of law, keep our country safe, and protect civil rights. The commitment of our career attorneys and staff to diligent, creative, purposeful lawyering makes me proud to represent the one federal agency with a moral value in its name — Justice.

We gather today on the 26th anniversary of the tragic and heinous murder of James Byrd, Jr. – a 49-year-old Black man who was chained by the ankles to the back of a pick-up truck and dragged for nearly three miles to his death. His decapitated body left mutilated and abandoned. His murderers: three white men, including two avowed white supremacists. James Byrd was a father of three, a son, a brother and beloved by his family and community. The thousands of lynchings of Black people, the deaths of Emmett Till, the four little girls killed at the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, James Byrd, to the nine peaceful worshippers gunned down in Charleston, to Ahmaud Arbery, racially motivated violence is a stain on our nation’s history. It is fitting that we gather on this day for a sobering and timely reminder of why the fight against hate is so crucial and urgent.

We also gather here in June, Pride Month, which celebrates the hard-fought victories and recognition that generations of LGBTQI+ people have achieved. We honor the progress made, embrace the diversity of identities, and stand in solidarity with those who have paved the way for greater acceptance and equality. However, amidst this moment of celebration, we also acknowledge the harsh reality that many LGBTQI+ communities still face today. The risks, the fear, the violence they face, especially while celebrating their intersectional identities, shows that our work is far from over.

At the Civil Rights Division, we take our responsibility to enforce hate crime laws seriously, including vigorous enforcement of attacks against the LGBTQI+ community. Hate crimes not only harm the immediate victims but also send a chilling message of intolerance to entire communities. We have actively pursued cases – and continue to do so – to ensure that perpetrators of hate crimes are held accountable.

These types of heinous crimes prompted Congress to adopt the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The law is an essential weapon in our legal arsenal to combat hate, and we have used it effectively. We have prosecuted those responsible for violent attacks against LGBTQI+ people, addressed threats and harassment directed at LGBTQI+ community centers, and worked tirelessly to protect the rights of all people to live openly, love freely and authentically without fear. In the last six months:

We charged the man responsible for the 2022 mass shooting at Club Q in Colorado—which left five members of the community dead, 25 injured, and countless others—with hate crimes. A guilty plea is anticipated, which I recognize is just the first step in this community’s healing.

We prosecuted a South Carolina man for the murder of Dime Doe, a Black transgender woman. This case was the first trial under the Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act for violence against a transgender person. The jury’s guilty verdict was historic, as it marked the first time a defendant was found guilty at trial for a federal hate crime motivated by gender identity. This verdict hopefully sends a loud message: Black trans lives matter. Violence toward trans people period will not be tolerated.

We prosecuted and secured prison sentences for a Texas man who threatened a Boston doctor working at a national LGBTQI+ health center because the doctor provides gender-affirming care for youth, and an Ohio man who firebombed a church because it planned to host a drag show event.

All of these acts impede the ability of healthcare workers, faith leaders, and community members to care for their patients, their congregants, and their constituents. They inflict fear and trauma on an already vulnerable community seeking empathy and understanding. The Justice Department will continue to investigate and prosecute acts of hate, intimidation, and violence aggressively.

The Civil Rights Division is committed to prosecuting hate crimes across all affected communities. And I want to share a few brief examples of our other hate crimes prosecutions to illustrate the breadth of our efforts and the diverse communities that we strive to protect.

We obtained 90 consecutive life sentences against the man who killed 23 Hispanic people and wounded 22 others at a Wal-Mart in El Paso, Texas, victims that he targeted because he thought there were too many immigrants from Mexico.

We obtained a guilty verdict, and the court imposed the death penalty on the man who was motivated by his antisemitic beliefs when he killed 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

We brought a 27-count indictment alleging that the man who killed 10 Black people at a Tops Grocery store in Buffalo, New York, did so because Black people were supposedly replacing white people in this country.

The loss of life in all of these cases was devastating and tragic. The loved ones of the victims have endured unimaginable grief. However, the trauma extends much further because hate crimes are message crimes. The perpetrators intend to incite terror and make members of the affected racial, ethnic, and religious communities feel insecure, unwanted, and afraid to go about their daily lives.

Our prosecutions, though, send a louder message: that hate crimes will not be tolerated in our democracy, that perpetrators will be punished and held accountable, and that the federal government will safeguard the communities targeted.

These mass murders are just a tiny portion of the hate crimes that plague our nation and just a small percentage of our prosecutions.

Last month, a Dallas man was sentenced to 37 years in prison for killing one and attempting to kill four others because he believed they were Muslims.

Last fall, a Florida man was sentenced for his attack on a group of Black men who were surveying a site for a potential memorial regarding the 1923 Rosewood Massacre.

In 2022, we convicted three men for hate crimes in the shooting and killing of Ahmaud Arbery. At trial, the evidence showed that the defendants’ racist beliefs led them to stereotype and dehumanize Mr. Arbery simply because he was Black. Two defendants were sentenced to life in prison and the third to 35 years.

All of this work reflects a fundamental obligation of federal law enforcement: protecting the right of every person to dwell in their home, work at their job, jog down a street, shop at a store, and engage in acts of daily living without fear of attack because of how they look, where they are from, how they worship, or who they love.

For that reason, battling hate crimes is one of our top priorities. Since January 2021, the Department has charged more than 120 defendants in over 110 cases for committing hate crimes and obtained hate crime convictions against more than 100 defendants.

But we are swimming upstream. According to FBI statistics, in 2022, reported hate crimes increased 11% from the previous high level set in 2021. More than 60% of those crimes are based on race or ethnicity, and most of those involve crimes against Black people. Hate incidents based on antisemitism were up 25% in 2022, and that was before the surge in such crimes after the October 7 attacks last year in Israel. Anti-Arab and anti-Muslim crimes jumped as well.

We will not back down from the fight against hate and will not relent in our quest for accountability. But we also know that we’re not going to prosecute our way out of this crisis. We also need to prevent these acts from taking place in the first instance. That’s why, in 2022, the Attorney General announced United Against Hate, a nationwide community outreach and engagement program designed to increase awareness about hate crimes and hate incidents.

Over the past two years, all 94 U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, including your U.S. Attorney Office right here in Rhode Island, have collectively hosted hundreds of United Against Hate programs, bringing together thousands of community groups, community leaders, and law enforcement at every level to build trust and strengthen coordination to combat unlawful acts of hate.

In addition to prevention, we all need to ensure that our work is victim-centered and trauma-informed. We need to center the experiences of the victims, the families and the survivors of these heinous crimes. And that’s why I want to take a moment to applaud the organizers of today’s convening for lifting up the families of Khalid Jabara, for lifting up the Mallingers’ voices, for reminding us about the work of the Matthew Shepard Foundation. And I also want to acknowledge the state Attorney’s General Office’s efforts for hiring the amazing Taylor Dumpson, a brilliant hate crimes survivor who has taken her experience, become a lawyer, and is using her talents and skills to advance justice and equity. Her strength, her courage and her resilience should be applauded by us all.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a bedrock federal law that laid the foundation for much of our nation’s progress in equality and justice. While prosecuting hate crimes is crucial to keeping communities safe, our work at the Civil Rights Division extends far beyond this. We are committed to expanding opportunities in housing, access to credit, jobs, education, voting and more.

There is a strong connection between our criminal prosecutions of hate crimes and our civil rights enforcement in these other areas. Both efforts aim to protect and empower marginalized communities, ensuring they live free from fear, discrimination, and harassment. By addressing hate crimes and promoting equal access to essential services and opportunities, we work towards a more just and inclusive society for everyone. In other words, we’re using every tool in our toolbox to ensure that every eligible American has access to opportunity and a voice in our democracy.

Thus, we continue the fight against discrimination on a number of other fronts. I want to highlight three areas today.

Constitutional Policing. Our nation is protected by over 18,000 law enforcement agencies, and many thousands of officers – many of them in this room today — carry out their jobs with honor, bravery, and integrity. They are the frontline responders when we have hate crimes crises and other crimes that unfold at our doorstep. But we know, because we have seen, that some officers violate their oath and the Constitution.

Examples of this critical work to combat this misconduct include pursuing charges against the officers tied to the tragic deaths of George Floyd in Minnesota, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, and Tyre Nichols in Tennessee. It also includes obtaining convictions of six former officers in Rankin County, Mississippi who carried out a violent assault and brutal torture of two Black men.

These officers, who labeled themselves the “Goon Squad,” arrested and detained the victims without probable cause and violently abused them while using racial slurs. This culminated with one defendant forcing the barrel of his gun into the mouth of one of the victims. He pulled the trigger to scare him — not once, but twice — and that second time, a bullet ripped through the victim’s mouth and throat and exited through the neck, causing life-threatening injuries.

All six former officers have recently received prison terms ranging from 10 to 40 years. By holding these officers accountable for their heinous acts, we send two clear messages: one, that law enforcement officers are not above the law, and two, that hate-fueled acts of violence will not be tolerated in our country, no matter who perpetrates them.

However, these high-profile examples of unconstitutional policing merely scratch the surface. We are investigating police departments from Minneapolis to Louisville, Memphis to New York City, Louisiana to Mississippi, and more. We aim to ensure that state and local law enforcement do their jobs lawfully, transparently, and free from discrimination.

Voting Rights. The right to vote is at the core of the right to fairness and justice. And Dr. King has called this “the highest mandate of our democratic tradition,” and the Supreme Court said the right is “preservative of all other rights.”

At the Justice Department, we are tasked with preserving the protective fabric of our democracy by protecting that right. But sadly, voter suppression efforts are on the rise. And we’re seeing discriminatory redistricting plans that dilute the voting strength of color and more. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has constricted the Department’s tools to counter much of this discrimination.

But, we have brought multiple lawsuits and filed briefs across the country to protect voting rights for all Americans, especially our most vulnerable communities. Recently, right here in Rhode Island, in partnership with your U.S. Attorney, we secured an agreement with the City of Pawtucket to resolve allegations that officials failed to provide Spanish-language assistance for voters in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of our work on voting rights. Many thousands of Americans fought and died to secure that right and we will continue to push until every eligible American has voice in our democracy.

Redlining is the final area that I will highlight today.  I want to speak briefly about the work that we are doing to empower families and communities by fighting to close the racial wealth gap.

For context, Black families today have 24 cents for every $1 of white family wealth, and much of that wealth disparity is attributable to gaps we see when it comes to homeownership rates. A white family is 70% more likely to own a home than a Black family. And this gap can be explained through historical practices by people, governments, banks, and lenders to exclude Black families from owning land in our country.

In 2021, the Justice Department launched the “Combatting Redlining Initiative,” a nationwide initiative to address modern-day redlining. We have secured over $122 million in relief for communities of color nationwide. Our settlements have brought relief to communities that stretch from Houston, Memphis, Philadelphia to Wilmington, Los Angeles to Tulsa, Charlotte, to right here in Rhode Island.

Our recent $9 million settlement with the Washington Trust Company, the oldest community bank in the nation, resolved allegations that it engaged in a pattern or practice of lending discrimination by redlining majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhoods here in Rhode Island.

Most of the relief that we have secured in similar settlements is helping to support loan subsidies, which provide direct assistance to borrowers of color, allowing them to access credit and make the dream of home ownership a reality.

We look forward to continuing this work, protecting the rights of all Americans, and achieving the equality so fundamental to our national values. The great John Lewis instructed us that, “Freedom is not a state; it is an act. It is not some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest. Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society.”

We pledge that we will stand with you, shoulder to shoulder, as we all do our part in creating a fairer, more just society.

Thank you.

Civil Rights
Hate Crimes
Updated June 7, 2024