White House Focuses Attention on Hate Crimes
Announces Support for Strengthening Federal Laws
By Laura DeKoven Waxman
The November 10 White House Conference on Hate Crimes provided an opportunity to focus attention on a serious and growing problem in the nation which rarely gets much national attention. Among the 350 Conference participants were Fort Wayne Mayor Paul Helmke, President of the Conference of Mayors, and Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson, a past president of the Conference. The Hate Crimes Conference was organized by the White House as part of its year-long national conversation on race.
Commenting on violence motivated by prejudice and hatred in his speech which opened the Conference, President Clinton told Conference participants that "anybody who thinks that in the world of today and tomorrow, that he or she can hide from the kind of poison that we see in various places in our country, is living in a dream world. Whether we like it or not, our futures are bound together, and it is time we acted like it," he continued.
Clinton announced Administration support for legislation co-sponsored by Senators Edward M. Kennedy (MA) and Arlen Specter (PA) which would strengthen current federal hate crimes laws by including all hate crimes that cause physical harm and crimes committed because of a victim's sexual orientation, gender or disability. Current law only extends to certain crimes committed against people on the basis of their race, religion and national origin. Based on its hate crime policies of the last several years, the Conference of Mayors has already registered its support for this legislation.
The President also announced a number of Administration initiatives relating to hate crimes. U.S. Attorneys will establish or expand working groups to develop enforcement strategies, share best practices and educate the public about hate crimes. More than 50 additional FBI agents and prosecutors will be assigned to hate crimes enforcement. The Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Justice Department will launch an new initiative to help victims of housing-related hate crimes bring action against their attackers and get money damages for the harm they suffer.
Other Administration officials participating in the Conference included the Vice President, the Attorney General and the Secretaries of Education, Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture and Transportation. HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo announced that his Department is proposing to stiffen the civil penalties that can be imposed in the cases which it brings. HUD has jurisdiction over 27 percent of the nation's hate crimes, because they occur at a victim's home. "If you're going to trade in the currency of hate, this department is going to make you pay," Cuomo said during the Conference.
Federal data on hate crimes are collected voluntarily from local police departments through the Uniform Crime Reports. In 1996 there were 8,759 hate crime incidents reported to the federal government, an increase of 10 percent over the previous year. The Conference of Mayors hate crimes policies have urged local police departments to participate in reporting hate crimes to the federal government.
Copyright © 1996, US Conference of Mayors, All rights reserved.