Memphis, TN – The United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Tennessee participated in a United Against Hate outreach event bringing DOJ officials and FBI partners to community members to elevate effective strategies to prevent, report, and respond to hate crimes and incidents.
United Against Hate is a nationwide Department of Justice initiative to inform communities about hate crimes and reporting hate-related incidents. The Department launched the initiative in 2022 with the goal of building trust, opening lines of communication, and strengthening coordination between relevant partners and the community to help combat a growing number of hate and bias-related incidents since 2021.
“One of our biggest concerns is that people may not know what a hate crime looks like, or who to tell if they have concerns, so these serious violations may never come to our attention,” said U.S. Attorney Kevin Ritz. “We can’t fight what we can’t find. When hate crimes go unreported, it becomes more difficult for law enforcement agencies to allocate resources for the fight.”
This recent event took place on September 25 at Temple Israel, the oldest and largest Jewish congregation in Tennessee, and featured U.S. Attorney Kevin Ritz, Rabbi Micah Greenstein, former U.S. Attorney Edward Stanton, and FBI Special Agent Taneka Blacknell.
The event also featured the story of Mickey Wright, the Shelby County code enforcement officer who was murdered in 2001 while on the job, after he wrote a citation to a business owner on Lamar Avenue. Dale Mardis was eventually convicted of civil rights violations for dismembering Wright’s body and disposing him. Wright’s remains were never located. Mardis, who is currently serving life in federal prison, admitted to murdering Wright because of the ticket, but also because Wright was African American.
Wright’s wife and daughter were honored guests at the Temple Israel event.
The following is an excerpt from U.S. Attorney Ritz’s remarks as prepared for delivery:
“As federal law enforcement, we have a fundamental obligation to protect the right of each 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 based on how they look, where they are from, how they worship or who they love.
From Charleston to Charlottesville to Pittsburgh to El Paso to Buffalo—the threat of hate-based and extremist violence is real. My oath commands me to protect our country from threats foreign and domestic. I’m going to do that.
But we can’t fight what we can’t find.
When hate crimes go unreported, it becomes more difficult for law enforcement agencies to allocate resources for the fight. If there aren’t enough officers to investigate, or prosecutors to try those cases, people may never see justice served.
That’s why we were so proud earlier this summer to announce our district’s new National Security and Civil Rights Unit. We now have a dedicated team of prosecutors within the Criminal Division focusing on prosecuting hate-based crimes, civil rights violations, violent extremism, and related crimes. This is a major part of our mission and deserves to always have a clear, formal home in our office.
But staying silent in the face of hate crimes and incidents also sends a chilling message to our neighbors of various races, religions, and genders: that what happens to them isn’t important. That they don’t matter.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Instead, I want to urge you to take action. You can help us to prevent hate crimes from happening, hold people who commit acts of hate accountable for their actions, and support those who have been targeted.
Over the weekend, Rabbi Greenstein wrote in a local publication about the significance of Yom Kippur. He wrote that ‘the big idea is that what God cares about most is not that a person believes what is right, but that a person does what is right.’
We work hard every day in my office to do the right thing. As you listen to the presenters today, I want you remember that our work begins with raising awareness on attacks against people based on prejudice, bias, and hate.”
Community organizations or leaders that wish to partner with the United States Attorney’s office to explore holding such an event in their community should contact the District at 901-544-4231.
Anyone who feels they have been the victim of a hate crime or may have witnessed a hate crime should immediately report the crime to state or local police by dialing 9-1-1, then quickly report the incident to the FBI at tips.FBI.gov or by calling 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324). Next, please report the incident to the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division at civilrights.justice.gov or by contacting the Civil Rights Coordinator in the Civil Division at the U.S. Attorney’s Office at 901-544-4231.