Citing recent killings in Arkansas, Kansas and
the nation's capital, Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday said
new hate crimes law were needed to stop what he called "violence
masquerading as political activism."
The attorney general's call for Congress to act came as a civil
rights coalition said there has been a surge in white supremacist
activity since the election of the first African-American president
and the economic downturn.
"Over the last several weeks, we have witnessed brazen acts of
violence committed in places that many would have considered
unthinkable," Holder told the Washington Lawyers Committee for
Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.
He cited separate attacks over a two-week period that killed a
young soldier in Little Rock, an abortion provider in Wichita and a
guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Federal agents and prosecutors already are involved in the local
investigations of each attack.
The violence, Holder said, "reminds us of the potential threat
posed by violent extremists and the tragedy that ensues when
reasoned discourse is replaced by armed confrontation."
"We will not tolerate murder, or the threat of violence,
masquerading as political activism," he said. "So let me be
clear. The Justice Department will use every tool at its disposal
to protect the rights ensured under our Constitution."
Holder said that to stop such violence, Congress should pass an
updated version of hate crimes legislation in order to more
effectively prosecute those who commit violent attacks based on
gender, disability or sexual orientation.
The growing number of hate crimes against Latinos also shows the
need for tougher laws, Holder said.
In recent years Republicans, including then-President George W.
Bush, have opposed Democratic efforts to expand the hate crimes
law, saying it was unnecessary because current laws on the books
provide for effective punishment and prosecution.
Separately Tuesday, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights
Education Fund issued a report saying white supremacist activity
online spiked after Barack Obama's election victory in November,
and hate groups now use social networking sites like MySpace and
Facebook to spread their message.
The report reviewed hate crimes over nearly two decades.
"In the nearly twenty years since the 1990 enactment of the
Hate Crime Statistics Act, the number of hate crimes reported has
consistently ranged around 7,500 or more annually - that's nearly
one every hour of every day," the report said.
Hate crime statistics are compiled by the FBI.
The Southern Poverty Law Center reported in February that the
number of hate groups had risen by more than 50 percent since 2000,
from 602 to 926. It attributed the growth mainly to fears about
nonwhite immigration, but said Obama's election and the downward
economy also were factors by early this year.
Tuesday's report from the Leadership Conference found:
-African-Americans remain by far the most frequent victims of
hate crimes. Of the 7,624 hate crime incidents reported nationwide
in 2007, the most recent year available, 34 percent were
perpetrated against African-Americans.
-In the five years from 2003-2007, the number of hate crimes
reported against Hispanics increased nearly 40 percent, from 426 in
2003 to 595 in 2007. Of all hate crimes reported in the United
States in 2007, 7.8 percent were committed against Hispanics.
-In 2007, there were 969 reported hate crimes committed against
Jews, constituting 12.7 percent of all hate crimes reported and 69
percent of religious bias hate crimes reported.
-Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 2001, the number of
hate crimes directed against Arab-Americans, Muslims and Sikhs
escalated dramatically. In 2001, those groups were victimized in
nearly 5 percent of the total number of hate crimes reported that
year, 481 out of 9,730. While the number of reported hate crimes
against the groups declined from the peak of 2001, it remains
substantially above pre-2001 levels.
-Reported hate crimes committed against individuals because of
their sexual orientation increased in 2007 to 1,265, the highest
level in five years. Of all hate crimes reported in 2007, the
proportion committed against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender
individuals rose to 16.6 percent, also the highest level in five