Remarks by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (as prepared)
To the Anti-Defamation League
2009 American Heritage Dinner
October 17, 2009
Las Vegas, Nevada
Posted: October 19, 2009
Good evening. Thank you for that generous introduction, and to all of you for the warm welcome.
You -- the members of the Anti-Defamation League -- and I go way back. I first began convening meetings with members of the ADL in the early '90s when I served as the United States Attorney in Washington, D.C. And I last had the privilege of speaking to this proud and storied organization at the end of my service in the Clinton Administration. At that time I expressed my deep appreciation for the fact that you always have served as indispensable allies in some of the most important work our government does. And now, tonight, I once more have the opportunity to stand in solidarity with you, and to thank you for your constant, steadfast work to create a better country.
A country free of discrimination; a country free of violence; a country free of hate. The Obama Administration could ask for no better partner than the Anti-Defamation League as we jointly strive to attain the ideals of equal opportunity, equal rights, and equal justice for all. Members of the ADL -- I salute you.
|"The Obama Administration could ask for no better partner than the Anti-Defamation League as we jointly strive to attain the ideals of equal opportunity, equal rights, and equal justice for all."
I am especially glad to be here with you tonight when, after many years of tireless work by people like you, we are on the brink of a momentous victory. The Senate is now poised to pass the historic "Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act." The House has already approved this legislation, and the President has pledged to sign the bill into law.
This success has been a long time coming. More than a decade ago I testified on Capitol Hill on behalf of this legislation. A decade ago. Since that time we have seemed on the e verge of victory on a number of occasions, only to be gravely disappointed by the final result. But this evening I make this promise to you -- this time, this time, we will not be denied!
But at the same time that we celebrate this marvelous step of progress, we also should be sobered by all the work that remains to be done. Even today, in what we like to consider an enlightened era, too many people still deny our common humanity,
still do not see the dignity inherent in every person, still do not grasp the intrinsic value of each and every individual. There are those who continue to accentuate differences and perpetuate violence, both here in the United States and around the world.
|"The stubborn persistence of anti-Semitism saddens me -- for it undeniably still exists. We deny this at our peril."
All of us, in whatever part of the globe, who care about democracy, who care about peace, who care about hope, are troubled by the continuing violence in the Middle East. And we have every reason to be deeply worried about the threat that a nuclear Iran could pose to Israel and to the world.
Further, the recent revelation of the alleged terror plot involving New York and Denver - one of the most serious threats that the United States has faced since September 11th - stands as a stark reminder that hatred still brews in our country.
And it cannot be denied that even today, too many Americans still experience vicious acts of discrimination, and experience painful instances of disparate treatment. And so, we must not be deceived by our own dreams and fervent hopes - in the real world, the struggle continues.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups active in the United States has increased 54% since 2000. For example, the number of Ku Klux Klan groups increased significantly in 2008, and so did crews of racist skinheads.
As I noted earlier, I first testified in the Senate in support of new hate crimes legislation when I was the Deputy Attorney General eleven years ago. And since that time, the desperate need for a strengthened federal law enforcement capability against hate crimes has been perfectly clear. Bias-motivated acts of violence still abound- our struggle continues.
Since the federal government started keeping statistics in 1990, the number of hate crimes reported annually has consistently ranged around 7,500. This means that over the span of the last two decades in our country, there has been nearly one hate crime every hour of every day. That is a staggering figure, and it is completely unacceptable. But then consider that this statistic may only hint at the totality of the problem. Many police agencies throughout the country, including in major cities, do not participate in the FBI's reporting system, and many victims do not report the hate crimes perpetuated against them. In fact, the Bureau of Justice Statistics puts the actual annual number of hate crimes in the tens of thousands. This fact is enough to make one's blood run cold.
In the last ten years, approximately half of all reported hate crimes were racially motivated. But I don't need to tell this organization that other groups are targets of hate crimes too. Hatred associated with religion has generally accounted for the second highest number of hate crimes incidents. This is closely followed by animus against individuals because of their sexual orientation. Hate crimes against individuals of Hispanic or Latino national origin, and those perceived to be immigrants, have increased four years in a row, amounting to a total increase of 40%. The ADL has done important work documenting increased activity by hate groups who recruit new members using virulent anti-immigrant rhetoric that they present as legitimate opinion. Such language can have a devastating effect not just on an individual, but on an entire community.
Against this backdrop, the new hate crimes legislation will arrive not a moment too soon. And on the day that it becomes law, we will hasten to begin using it.
The new law expands the list of protected categories beyond race, color, religion, or national origin, and, for the first time, allows the federal government to prosecute violence undertaken because of the actual or perceived gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability of any person. Under the law about to be replaced, these crimes fell entirely outside the reach of federal law enforcement, and only a handful of state laws offer such protection. And let me add that the change allowing us to prosecute crimes motivated by gender is particularly satisfying because it comes in the middle of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. In my Justice Department, we will make combating violence against women a top priority.
We will also continue to defend vigilantly the civil rights of all people in this country, and prosecute criminal acts of discrimination wherever we find them. The stubborn persistence of anti-Semitism saddens me -- for it undeniably still exists. We deny this at our peril. Whether in a casual joke made in private when the speaker thinks no Jewish person is listening, or in shocking public acts of violence, its heartlessness and ugliness should scald the conscience of every American. In many ways its virulence, and the satisfaction it brings to those who thrive on it, are beyond our understanding. But it's there -- our struggle continues.
This year we witnessed terrible anti-Semitic crimes. In the summer, a grand jury indicted James Von Brunn, an 88-year-old anti-Semite, Holocaust denier, and white supremacist for allegedly opening fire at the U.S. Holocaust Museum and murdering Steven Johns, a black security guard. In June, a grand jury indicted four men for alleged attempted use of weapons of mass destruction, after the FBI discovered a plot to blow up synagogues in the Bronx. In May, a Jewish college student was shot by a man who, according to press reports, had previously written about his hatred of Jews.
This combination of crimes reminds us that, perversely, hate often does not discriminate, and those who would attack one minority group would attack another. This is just part of why hate cannot be isolated as a Jewish problem, or an African-American problem, or a gay problem, or a women's problem. It is America's problem. Our struggle must continue.
I want to reflect also tonight on another group for whom race and religion are treated as defining characteristics, to the concern and detriment of us all. I'm speaking of Muslim Americans.
This can be a difficult time to be a Muslim in America. The terrorist attacks of September 11th were a terrible blow to all Americans, and Muslim Americans shared in our collective grief about the loss of thousands of innocent lives. But Muslim Americans have also suffered in an additional way: Crimes against Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim have escalated dramatically since September 11th. Some hate-mongers seem to have adopted the twisted logic that an attack on innocents can somehow be avenged by another attack on innocents.
The Pew Center for Research published a study last month in which nearly six-in-ten adults say that Muslims are subject to widespread discrimination - far more than any other religious groups. In fact, those surveyed thought only one group suffers more discrimination in this country -- gays and lesbians.
Alongside these disturbing statistics, I have heard from Muslim Americans who feel uneasy about their relationship with our government, who feel isolated and discriminated against by law enforcement. They report feeling denied the full rights of citizenship and also, just as importantly, the full responsibilities of citizenship.
I realize that we can become emotionally overwhelmed by acts of terror committed in the name of Islam. We can, perhaps, fail to see that virtually all Muslim Americans are, just like us, trying to do what all Americans wish to do -- lead fulfilling, honorable lives, raise their children, love their families, support their communities, and serve their country.
The tension that arises among citizens of different faiths, and between government and citizens of a particular faith, is unacceptable to me. It is inconsistent with what America is all about. This organization has a great tradition of refusing to stand by when others are suffering. You are guided by your tenets, your precepts, and your values to come to the aid of others who need your help. And so, this evening, I humbly call upon you to join me and this new Administration in reaching out to all of our American neighbors. It does not matter the color of their skin, how they pray to the same God or whom they choose to love. They are our American brothers and sisters. It is only through working, as this organization has for so many years, for the right to peace, security, and justice for others that we can truly merit the riches of peace, security, and justice for ourselves. The struggle that continues is one that, working together, we can and must win.