Justice News

Attorney General Jeff Sessions Delivers Remarks at the 2017 Hate Crimes Summit
Washington, DC
United States
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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Good morning, everyone.  Thank you, Rachel for the introduction.   We are very pleased to finally have Rachel on board as our Associate Attorney General.   She will be a strong champion of the Department’s work to advance and defend the rule of law. 

I also want to thank Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler and Deputy Assistant Attorney General Robert Moossy of our Civil Rights Division for putting together this important summit.   I am grateful to all of you for being here, and for your help in addressing this problem.

The Trump Administration and the Department of Justice are committed to reducing violent crime and making America safe.  As you know, hate crimes are violent crimes.   No person should have to fear being violently attacked because of who they are, what they believe, or how they worship.

So I pledge to you:   As long as I am Attorney General, the Department of Justice will continue to protect the civil rights of all Americans — and we will not tolerate the targeting of any community in our country. 

In February, I established a Department of Justice Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety.    The Task Force will accomplish its work through five subcommittees, including one specifically set forth to address hate crimes.   I asked Tom Wheeler to serve as chairman of the task force’s hate crimes subcommittee, which includes representatives from our U.S. Attorney community, the DOJ Community Relations Service, the FBI, the Community Oriented Policing Office, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Victims of Crime, and the Criminal Division.

The subcommittee is seeking feedback from communities through events like today’s summit.   We need to hear from you about what is happening in your communities.  

I have also asked the subcommittee to explore ways to expand and improve training for federal, state, and local prosecutors and investigators on hate crimes; how we can work better with affected communities and our state and local law enforcement partners; and how we can improve our data collection on hate crimes.  This Department of Justice is taking action.   The Department has prosecuted a number of high-profile hate crimes cases this year as we seek to bring criminals to justice.

In March, thanks to the outstanding and extensive work of the FBI and our international partners, a suspect was found and arrested in Israel for allegedly making threatening phone calls to Jewish community centers, inflicting terror across the nation.  In April, we brought federal charges against him, and our investigation into these acts as possible hate crimes continues. This Department will continue lend its full support to law enforcement officers and communities so we can fight crimes like these.

Just last week, we sought and a federal grand jury returned an indictment against a man in Texas for burglary and arson of the Victoria Islamic Center.   He now faces up to 40 years in federal prison.   Earlier this month, a man in Tennessee was sentenced to over 19 years in prison for trying to recruit people to help him burn down a mosque in a small town in New York.   Also this month, the Department indicted a man from Kansas for shooting three men at a bar because he thought they were of Persian origin.   One of the victims—a young Indian-American electrical engineer—was killed in the attack. He was just 32 years old and had a promising life ahead of him. 

We have and will continue to enforce hate crime laws aggressively and appropriately where transgendered individuals are victims.   Last month, Joshua Brandon Vallum was sentenced to 49 years in prison for assaulting and murdering Mercedes Williamson.   This is the first case prosecuted under the Hate Crimes Prevention Act involving the murder of a transgender person.

I personally met with the Department’s senior leadership and the Civil Rights Division to discuss a spate of murders around the country of transgender individuals.   I have directed the Civil Rights Division to work with the United States Attorney’s Offices and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to identify ways the Department can support the state and local law enforcement authorities investigating these incidents and to determine whether federal action would be appropriate. 

I specifically directed that the files of these cases be reviewed to ensure that there is no single person or group behind these murders or to what extent hate crime motivation lies behind such murders.  I receive regular updates on the status of that review.

I understand that many of the prosecutors who worked on these cases are here today.   I want to thank you for your hard work and dedication.  All of the cases I’ve talked about are critically important, and I am proud of the work that the Department is doing to fight and deter such crime.  

Last week, our Department also hosted a summit on crime reduction and public safety that included a breakout session focused on hate crimes.   The state and local law enforcement leaders at that session highlighted several areas where they thought we could improve hate crimes enforcement — including having dedicated state prosecutors for hate crimes, and model training on collection of evidence in these cases.

The feedback we received last week, as well as the thoughts you share today, will inform the subcommittee’s recommendations to the broader task force as they report to me next month, and as they prepare their full report due next January.

Finally, I have directed all our federal prosecutors to make fighting violent crime a top priority — and you can be sure that this includes hate crimes.   We will demand and expect results.

Under our Constitution and laws, this nation protects freedom of conscience, religion, speech, petition and assembly among others.  Thomas Jefferson swore eternal hostility over any domination of the mind of man.  So let it be.

Let me close by thanking you all once again for coming to this summit, and for your commitment to this cause.  Hate crimes are not only violent attacks on our fellow citizens;  they are an attack on our country’s most fundamental principles.   We have a duty to make sure that all Americans can live their lives without fear. 

I look forward to hearing about your feedback— and I am proud to work with all of you to make our country safe.  Thank you.

Updated November 20, 2017