Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Urges Congress to Strengthen Federal Hate Crimes Legislation

Media 04.12.02

Contact: Julie Fernandes

April 12, 2002

Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Urges Congress to Strengthen Federal Hate Crimes Legislation

For Immediate Release

Washington, D.C. – The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the nation’s oldest and most diverse coalition of civil and human rights organizations, reacted to yesterday’s announcement by Attorney General John Ashcroft regarding the federal government’s use of the Hate Crimes Sentencing Enhancement Act to charge Darrell David Rice, the man accused of murdering two women in Shenandoah National Park in 1996, with a hate crime based on sexual orientation or gender.

“The Justice Department’s action demonstrates a recognition by the federal government’s chief law enforcement agency that hate crimes based on gender or sexual orientation are an affront to our nation’s values and must be prosecuted vigorously,” said Wade Henderson, the Executive Director of LCCR.

But the Department of Justice’s use of the Sentencing Enhancement Act does not obviate the need for Congress to enhance and strengthen the existing federal hate crime statute though enactment of the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act of 2001(LLEEA). Under current law, the prosecutors in Virginia were able to charge this egregious act of bias-motivated violence as a hate crime only because the murders took place in a national park. “If these victims had been murdered anywhere else – in a state park, in a shopping mall parking lot, or in their homes – the federal government would have been powerless to assist in the investigation or prosecution of this heinous crime,” stated Mr. Henderson. “The vast majority of bias-motivated crimes do not occur on federal property. For the Justice Department’s role in combating these types of hate crimes to be meaningful, they need enhanced authority to act. They need Congress to pass the LLEEA.”

The LLEEA also strengthens the federal hate crimes statute by removing unnecessary obstacles to federal prosecution. Current hate crimes law leaves federal prosecutors powerless to intervene in bias-motivated crimes when they cannot also establish that the crime was committed because of the victim’s involvement in a “federally protected activity” such as attending a public school or voting. The LLEEA would enhance the federal response to hate crime violence by covering all violent crimes based on race, color, religion, or national origin.

The LLEEA currently has 51 co-sponsors in the Senate and also has the support of over 175 civil rights, religious, civic and law enforcement organizations, including 22 State Attorneys General, the National Sheriff’s Association and the International Association of Chiefs of Police. A recent Gallup Poll showed that 83% of Americans say they would support expanding federal hate crime law.

“While LCCR recognizes that bigotry cannot be legislated out of existence, a forceful, moral response to hate violence is required of us all,” stated Mr. Henderson. “We strongly believe Congress must enact the LLEEA in order to do everything possible to empower the federal government to assist in local hate crime prosecutions and, where appropriate, expand existing authority to permit a wider range of investigations and prosecutions.”