We Are Still Fighting the Old Demons of Hatred and Prejudice

The discovery of a noose on the campus of Columbia University -- the latest in a string of incidents around the country involving that horrific symbol of lynchings and racism -- was another powerful reminder of the impact of hate symbols and their use by those who wish to threaten and intimidate minorities and undermine all that America stands for as a diverse and democratic society. This was a deeply disturbing, heinous and unconscionable attack, and we have urged the New York City Police to investigate it as a hate crime.

There have been a number of incidents -- some of them criminal -- around the country in recent months involving the use of hateful, racist and anti-Semitic images. We had hoped that American society had moved beyond the use of such hateful expressions and imagery. But these incidents -- such as the nooses in Jena, Louisiana, or the spray-painted swastikas on synagogues and cars discovered in Brooklyn earlier this month -- are a reminder that we still have a long way to go to ensuring that our neighborhoods, institutions of higher learning and communities can remain hate-free zones.

These incidents are attempts to intimidate and sow the seeds of racism and hate, and provide yet another reminder of the importance of enacting hate crimes legislation at the federal level.

ADL has long been in the forefront of national and state efforts to deter and counteract hate-motivated criminal activity. We have long argued that hate crimes statutes are necessary because the failure to recognize and effectively address this unique type of crime could cause an isolated incident to explode into widespread community tension, something we have already witnessed in Jena and now are witnessing on a campus in New York City.

Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have passed hate crime statutes, many based on model legislation drafted by ADL. The U.S. Supreme Court to unanimously upheld hate-crime statutes in 1993.

On September 27, the Senate approved legislation to expand federal hate crimes laws. The Senate voted 60-39 to end a filibuster against the bill -- and then passed the provision as an amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization bill by voice vote. The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crime Prevention Act (LLEHCPA) will eliminate gaps in federal authority to investigate and prosecute bias-motivated crimes.

The act would permit the Justice Department to assist local hate crime prosecutions and, where appropriate, to investigate and prosecute cases in which bias violence occurs because of the victim's race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability. Existing law does not provide sufficient authority for federal involvement in these cases. The bill approved by the Senate is nearly identical to a separate-standing measure, H.R. 1592, approved by the House 237-180 on May 3.

Today we are closer to enacting this legislation than we have ever been. We are disappointed that senior advisors in the White House continue to recommend that the President veto this legislation -- which has received bipartisan, majority support every time the House and Senate have voted on it over the past ten years. We will work hard to convince the President that the time has come for this important legislation.

Sadly, we are still fighting the old demons of hatred and prejudice, even among young people who have no memory of the civil rights era and Jim Crow. The recent acts at Columbia University and elsewhere points up the need for education, so that our young people have a deeper understanding of the consequences of unchecked racism, bigotry and hate.

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