Justice News

Attorney General Eric Holder Speaks at the Anti-Defamation League Centennial Summit
Washington, DC
United States
Monday, April 29, 2013

Thank you, Bob, for those kind words – and thank you all for such a warm welcome. It’s a privilege to be with you this morning, and a sincere pleasure to join so many good friends, valued colleagues, and dedicated partners in celebrating the Anti-Defamation League’s centennial year – and reaffirming our shared commitment to continuing your important work.

It’s an honor to stand with each of the leaders in this room – and with ADL’s members and supporters throughout the country – not only in reflecting upon the extraordinary progress that this organization has made possible over the last 100 years, but in looking ahead to the next 100. I’d particularly like to thank ADL’s National Director, Abe Foxman; your National Chair, Barry Curtis-Lusher; and your Washington, D.C. Regional Director, David Friedman – whom I’ve been fortunate to count as good friends for many years – for their leadership of these efforts, and for all that they’ve done to bring us together today.

This week’s Summit presents an important opportunity to highlight past achievements – and to call attention to the problems that remain unsolved; the wrongs we must right; the divisions we all must strive to bridge; and the future that every one of us must help to build. Thanks to the League’s strong advocacy – and your unwavering vigilance against bigotry and hate – we all can be proud of the changes you’ve helped to bring about since this organization was founded – in Chicago, in 1913, with a budget of just $200 and a headquarters consisting of two desks in one of your founder’s law offices.

In those days, the earliest members of the Anti-Defamation League came together to pledge themselves to the fight against anti-Semitism. With limited means – but an audacious vision – they set out not just to combat anti-Jewish bigotry, but to “secure justice and fair treatment to all.” They dared, in a time of uncertainty, to imagine a world without hate. And they helped to pioneer the fight against discrimination – and for civil rights – that would forever alter our nation’s history, and shape the course of the 20th century.

Yet, for all that the Anti-Defamation League and its partners have helped to achieve – and despite this organization’s extraordinary impact on American society, on our legal system, and on the world – the reality is that your work, our work, remains unfinished. Significant challenges – and persistent threats – lie before us. And the path to ensuring equality, opportunity, and justice for all – regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or walk of life – still stretches beyond the horizon.

That’s why gatherings like this one are so critical. By fostering constructive dialogue, by standing firm against discrimination, by monitoring hateful activities, by studying the roots of extremism, by defending the security of Jewish populations around the globe, and by educating policymakers, law enforcement leaders, and members of the public – ADL is proving every day that the changes we seek are possible. You’re showing that the results our citizens deserve are not beyond our reach. And you’re strengthening the ability of our nation’s Justice Department to advance these vital efforts.

More than three decades ago, ADL stepped to the forefront of this work – pioneering a model hate crime law that has since inspired similar statutes in 45 states and the District of Columbia. Across the country, you’ve helped guide the implementation and enforcement of these and corresponding federal laws – including right here in Washington.

During the 1990s – when I served as United States Attorney for the District of Columbia – I worked closely with David Friedman to create a Hate Crimes Working Group to build engagement between community leaders, prosecutors, law enforcement officials, and the D.C. residents they were sworn to serve. Under my predecessor, Attorney General Janet Reno, this approach was widely replicated across the country. And, on an even larger scale, ADL’s efforts to support and educate law enforcement with innovative training programs – in partnership with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum – have helped to reinforce the values of tolerance and respect for our nation’s diverse population.

To date, more than 80,000 law enforcement officials – including all new FBI agents – have taken part in this training. At every level of today’s Justice Department, my colleagues and I have been proud to work with ADL in broadening the impact of your efforts. We’ve partnered with you to develop cutting-edge resources like the FBI’s new Hate Crime Training Manual. And we’ve been fortunate to stand together in calling for the passage of important legislative tools, including the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act that has enabled us to take these comprehensive efforts to new heights.

For more than a decade, ADL fought to secure this critical measure – which strengthened the Department’s ability to achieve justice on behalf of those who are victimized because of their sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability. Since President Obama signed the Shepard-Byrd Act into law in 2009, the League has continued to work with the Department, the FBI, and independent civil rights groups to implement it successfully. As a result – and thanks to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, under the leadership of Assistant Attorney General and Secretary of Labor-designate Tom Perez – we’ve made great strides in enforcing these new protections. In fact, between 2009 and 2012, we convicted 141 defendants on federal hate crimes charges – an increase of more than 70 percent over the previous four years.

In addition, my colleagues and I have taken significant, and in many cases historic, steps to combat a range of other civil rights violations. We’ve filed more criminal civil rights cases than ever before – including record numbers of police misconduct and human trafficking cases. In 2012, we brought more trafficking prosecutions than in any other year on record.

Beyond this work, we’re taking a variety of actions to safeguard the voting rights of every eligible citizen, to confront employment discrimination, and to stop bullying in schools. We are determined to pass commonsense measures to prevent and reduce gun violence. And we are fighting every day – alongside groups like this one and our colleagues across the Administration – to achieve meaningful immigration reform, so 11 million people who are here in an undocumented status can step out of the shadows; free themselves from abusive employment practices; and avail themselves of the basic legal, civil, and human rights that every one of them needs and deserves.

We can all be proud of the Justice Department’s comprehensive civil rights enforcement efforts – and our ongoing work to bring about long-overdue reforms. We can be encouraged by the results of our close collaboration with ADL – in building new safeguards for vulnerable populations and securing needed changes to help guard against bigotry. Together, we’re upholding the values that have defined this organization over the past century, and the principles that lie at the heart of our justice system.

But, as we look toward the future of this work, we cannot yet be satisfied. Although many forms of racial and ethnic prejudice may not be as widespread, or as institutionalized, as they were 100 years ago, a recent ADL report shows that anti-Semitism may once again be on the rise in a number of countries around the world. By any measure, it remains disturbingly persistent in the United States, with more than 1,000 documented incidents in 2011 alone. Clearly, none of us can afford to become complacent. We delude ourselves if we believe that the dark forces have been conquered. They continue to exist in this nation. They continue to exist in the leadership of other nations around the world who have pledged to do harm to Israel and to Jewish people in other countries. We cannot afford to dismiss this sad and dangerous reality. The battle against anti-Semitism must remain as vital and robust today as it has during the life of this great organization. In that effort you will find a committed and active ally in this Attorney General.

We must also continue to move forward in preserving our democratic ideals and ensuring fair treatment for all – even, and especially, in moments of great difficulty.

Two weeks ago today, two bombs exploded near the Boston Marathon route, killing three innocent people and injuring more than 260. Over the following week – thanks to the valor of state and local police, the dedication of federal law enforcement and intelligence officials, and the vigilance of members of the public – those suspected of carrying out this terrorist act were identified. One person has been brought into custody and charged with using a weapon of mass destruction.

Our investigation into this matter remains ongoing – and I want to assure you that my colleagues and I are determined to hold accountable, to the fullest extent of the law, all of those who were responsible for this attack. But I also want to make clear that – just as we will pursue relentlessly anyone who would target our people or attempt to terrorize our cities – the Justice Department is firmly committed to protecting innocent people against misguided acts of retaliation.

In the dozen years since 9/11, this commitment has led the Department to investigate more than 800 incidents involving threats, assaults, and acts of vandalism and violence targeting Muslims, Arabs, Sikhs, South Asians, and others who are perceived to be members of these groups. Last August, in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, one such incident – a horrific mass shooting at a Sikh gurdwara – claimed the lives of six worshipers and left four people injured, including a responding police officer. I traveled to Oak Creek soon after and personally witnessed the terrible cost of hate-motivated violence – and the need to continue to foster close engagement among religious leaders, communities of faith, and law enforcement officials.

Only by forging close bonds between these groups can we ensure the safety – and the civil rights – of everyone in this country who may be targeted simply because of who they are, how they look, or what they believe. And only by taking action to address discrimination and preserve religious liberty can we extend these rights to every individual or community of faith whose freedoms – or lives – are threatened. Never forget that the battle for the rights and safety of all Americans must be our common endeavor. And given the strength and experience of this League, you must continue to be leaders in this expanded fight.

In July of last year, the Department filed suit against a Tennessee county for discriminating against local Muslims by refusing to allow a new mosque to open. ADL wrote and filed a brief to aid in this case, on behalf of a broad interfaith coalition. The congregation encountered vandalism, threats of violence, and steep public opposition. But the Department obtained a court order requiring county authorities to stand aside and honor First Amendment rights – and the congregation was permitted to worship in their new facility.

This action, and many others like it, prove the Department’s determination to safeguard the core Constitutional protections that stand at the center of who we are as a nation – and that have always empowered the ADL to bridge divides and promote cooperation over conflict. As Americans, we must not allow any group to be stigmatized or alienated. We must not tolerate acts of hatred. And we must reaffirm every day – through our actions as well as our approach – that justice and public safety are not in tension. They rely upon one another.

As we come together this week – to celebrate the achievements you’ve made possible, and to renew our mutual commitment to building upon them – let us also resolve once more to help our fellow citizens to meet fear with reason. This is how we will honor the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings. Let us strive to confront ignorance with information. This is how we will strengthen the American family. And let us promote understanding, encourage open dialogue, and divert suspicious or prejudiced gazes with outstretched hands. This is how we will overcome adversity, and transform today’s pain into tomorrow’s progress.

Together, we can move this country toward the day when being or appearing Jewish, Muslim, Arab, black, gay, – or part of any other group, real or perceived – will not mean accepting a higher risk of becoming a victim of discrimination.

Such a day has not yet arrived. It has not. But this morning, as I look around this audience – and consider all that we’ve achieved together, and all the promising work that’s under way even as we speak – I cannot help but feel confident in our ability to make your founders’ vision a reality. We can create a world that is free of discrimination, bigotry and hate – man-made problems are susceptible to man-made solutions. But we can only do so if people of good will come together and work together. I am proud to count each of you as a colleague – and a partner – in this important, ongoing work. And I am eager to see where the Anti-Defamation League will – as it has for one hundred years – lead us from here.

Thank you.

Updated August 18, 2015