Thank you for joining us today. It is an honor to be here with U.S. Attorney Ken Gonzales. The residents of New Mexico are fortunate to have Ken at the helm as the state’s top federal prosecutor. He has an unwavering commitment to justice and equal opportunity. I also want to thank District Attorney Rick Tedrow for his partnership. Civil rights enforcement is indeed a joint venture between federal and local law enforcement, and we appreciate your leadership and partnership.
I began my career as a prosecutor in the Civil Rights Division, and traveled the country helping to bring justice in the wake of vicious, hate-fueled violence. I saw the way such crimes can tear communities apart. Hate crimes are aimed not only at the actual victims, but at the broader community. I would have loved nothing more than to return to the Justice Department to find there was no longer a need for robust enforcement of hate crimes laws.
Regrettably, as we have seen here in New Mexico and across the nation, the need for aggressive enforcement remains.
The facts of this case shock the conscience – the defendants took advantage of a young man’s mental disability and assaulted him because he is Native American. They defaced his body and branded him with some of the most obvious symbols of hate. They exploited his disability to try to cover-up their actions, and then lied to law enforcement officials investigating the case.
Incidents like this have no place in our nation in 2011.
Recognizing the continuing need for powerful tools to combat such hate-fueled violence, in 2009 Congress passed and President Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, providing us with critical new tools to prosecute hate crimes. To say this act was long in the making would be an understatement. As an aide to the late Senator Ted Kennedy in the late 90s, I was involved in the effort to secure this landmark legislation. I helped draft the first version of the bill that was introduced in 1996. It took more than a decade for this legislation to reach the President’s desk.
The law makes it easier to prosecute hate crimes motivated by race, ethnicity, gender, religion and national origin by removing unnecessary jurisdictional obstacles that made it very difficult - and often impossible - to prosecute obvious hate crimes. Equally important, the new law empowers us for the first time to prosecute hate crimes committed because of a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. I first started prosecuting hate crimes over 20 years ago. I observed many equal opportunity bigots, who hated African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, Jews, Muslims, and people who are LGBT. We now have the tools to prosecute the full range of hate crimes that we see.
This case was the first to be indicted under the new law. Since bringing the charges in this case, we have charged three more cases under the law. We have planned or participated in dozens of training conferences throughout the country, bringing together federal, state and local law enforcement, along with community stakeholders, to educate them about the law and its implementation. More than 80 investigations have been opened under the new law, and we will continue our efforts to aggressively enforce it.
We must acknowledge the reality that across America we are sailing into a strong headwind of intolerance that rears its ugly head in many different ways, shapes and forms. In this fiscal year, This fiscal year we have already charged and convicted more defendants on hate crimes charges than we did all of last year we have already charged and convicted more defendants on hate crimes charges than we did all of last year. Our docket of cases involving hate-fueled violence directed at Muslim, Arab, Sikh and South Asian communities is on the rise. We recently completed prosecutions of hate crimes directed at Latinos. African Americans remain a frequent target of violence, and the 80 investigations opened under the new law include a host of matters involving assaults of individuals who are LGBT. To those who want to use violence to divide our communities along racial, ethnic, religious, sexual orientation or other lines, we are here today to deliver a clear and unmistakable message: We will throw the book at you, and we will use every tool in our law enforcement arsenal in the process. We will work in partnership with local law enforcement, and we will leave no stone unturned.
I want to thank U.S. Attorney Gonzales, as well as the attorneys here in New Mexico and in Washington, for their hard work on this important case. Thank you all for joining us today.