ADL Statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee on the Matthew Shepard Hate Crime Prevention Act

  • June 25, 2009
On Behalf of ADL & The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights
Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Regarding S. 909

Good Morning.

I am Michael Lieberman, Washington Counsel for the Anti-Defamation League, and co-chair of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights hate crime task force. I am very pleased to represent ADL and the LCCR on this panel. We support the Matthew Shepard Hate Crime Prevention Act.

And this is notable.

Because it’s rare for a coalition of civil rights, education, and religious groups to support expanded federal criminal authority.

Groups like the LCCR, the NAACP, Human Rights First, and the American Association of University Women – all members of our hate crime coalition – do not usually come before you to advocate for expanded federal police powers.

It’s even more extraordinary that we do so hand-in-hand with the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National District Attorneys Association – and virtually every other major law enforcement organization in America.

Violent hate crimes have a special impact on victims and their communities. They merit special attention – and they receive it.

For example, the FBI has been the nation’s repository for crime statistics since 1930. They publish an annual report called Crime in the United States.

And every year, the FBI disaggregates that data and publishes two separate reports on crime issues that they believe impact Americans dramatically.

One report is about law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty – obviously of great concern.

And the other report is about hate crimes in America – recognizing their importance and impact.

In 2007, the most recent data available, the FBI documented 7,624 hate crimes. That’s almost one hate crime, every hour of every day.

Hate crimes against Hispanics have increased in each of the past four years – and the number of sexual orientation hate crimes rose to its highest level in five years.

We support S. 909 because we see

  • a disturbing prevalence of hate violence in America;
  • an inadequate patchwork of state hate crime laws; and
  • deficiencies in existing federal criminal civil rights laws.

State and local authorities investigate and prosecute the overwhelming majority of hate crime cases – and will continue to do so after this legislation is enacted. Federal authority has been exercised very rarely.

But those cases are really important – and demonstrate our nation’s commitment to confront the very worst violent hate crimes.

  • Like the murder of Yankel Rosenbaum in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn in 1991.
  • And cases that involve organized hate groups and neo-Nazi skinheads;
  • And the recent successful prosecution of Latino gang members in Los Angeles who had hunted African-Americans as a gang initiation rite.

The legislation before you is narrow, measured, modest, and constitutionally sound. It complements and fills gaps in the patchwork of existing state laws.

45 states and the District of Columbia have hate crime laws, but

  • Only 30 states and the District include sexual orientation in their law;
  • Only 26 states and the District include gender;
  • Only 12 states and the District include gender identity; and
  • Only 30 states and the District include disability;

We have no illusions about this legislation.

We know that bigotry, racism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism cannot be legislated out of existence. A new federal law that finally addresses all victims of hate crimes will not eliminate them.

But federal involvement in select cases where state and local officials cannot or will not act, and expanded federal partnerships with state and local officials will result in more effective response to these crimes.

A new LCCR Education Fund report, attached as Appendix A, describes a number of very disturbing trends, and further underscores the need for this legislation.

The report documents increased hate group recruitment after the election of our first African-American President – and an increase in demonizing, hateful rhetoric against Hispanics, immigrants, and those who look like immigrants.

The shooting at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum earlier this month reminds us, as the Museum itself does every day, where the spread of hatred can lead.

We urge you to enact this essential legislation to equip federal, state, and local law enforcement officials with the very best tools to confront this national problem.

Thank you very much.