Combating Hate Crimes Must Be Top Priority For Trump And New Attorney General

Media interviews and tweets are not enough to solve this problem.
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Mike Segar / Reuters

This week, my colleague, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions will come before the Senate Judiciary Committee for his nomination hearing as President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to be Attorney General at a time when we have witnessed an alarming increase in bias-motivated violence in our country.

Last week in Chicago, a white teenager with mental health challenges was the victim of a brutal assault and local authorities have filed hate crime charges. Sadly, he is not alone. There are many additional disturbing and disgusting examples of racism, discrimination and hate that warrant the attention of the incoming Trump administration.

In the aftermath of the election, there have been hundreds of documented instances of discrimination, harassment and even violence against members of minority communities, as well as increased hostility in our nation’s schools. The Southern Poverty Law Center has collected reports of nearly 900 episodes of harassment and intimidation since Election Day, including more than a dozen in my home state of Wisconsin. For example, a Fitchburg family with eleven adopted children, including from Ghana and China, received an anonymous letter proclaiming “TRUMP WON,” calling them “race traitors” and telling them to “go home.”

The fact is, many members of racial, ethnic, disability and religious minority communities, as well as LGBT people, live in very real fear for their safety. They are scared, and it is incumbent upon President-elect Trump, as our nation’s leader, to demonstrate to them and all Americans that discrimination and violence against any individual because of who they are, how they worship, or who they love will not be tolerated in our country.

But beyond this spike in alleged hate crimes, discrimination and harassment since Election Day, there has been a longer-term increase in these incidents. On November 14, the FBI issued its report on hate crimes that occurred in 2015. It contains data from 14,997 law enforcement agencies and reveals 5,850 criminal incidents and 6,885 related offenses that were motivated by bias against race, ethnicity, ancestry, religion, sexual orientation, disability, gender, and gender identity. The Bureau also found a seven-percent increase in these incidents from 2014, including an astonishing 67 percent jump in such crimes against Muslims. Furthermore, this report includes information voluntarily provided to the Bureau, and thus likely reflects a significant undercount in the amount of bias-motivated crime.

“President-elect Trump’s choice of Senator Sessions... sends a concerning message that combating this crisis is not a priority for the incoming administration.”

One of the most terrible manifestations of hatred in recent history occurred last summer when 49 people, mostly LGBT and Latino, were murdered in the horrific shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. This act of terror and unprecedented gun violence was targeted at these minority communities in what should have been a place of refuge and celebration. In response to this terrible crime, I fought for increased funding for hate crimes prevention, investigation and enforcement at the Justice Department’s Community Relations Service and Civil Rights Division during consideration of the legislation that funds the Department of Justice.

Recently, during an interview with 60 Minutes, President-elect Trump called on people accused of discrimination and harassment of minority groups to “stop it.” While I was encouraged by this public statement, media interviews and tweets are not enough to solve this problem. He must now act to counter this disturbing trend and our next Attorney General and the Department of Justice must make combating hate crimes a top priority.

Unfortunately, President-elect Trump’s choice of Senator Sessions, who has opposed the expansion of federal hate crime laws, as his nominee to lead the Justice Department sends a concerning message that combating this crisis is not a priority for the incoming administration.

One clear way to demonstrate the Trump administration’s commitment on this issue is to support robust funding for Department of Justice programs that combat bias-motivated crimes. That is why I am calling on President-elect Trump to follow through on his call for perpetrators of hate violence to “stop it” by prioritizing stronger investments in the Justice Department’s Community Relations Service and Civil Rights Division, both as his administration works with Congress to negotiate a final funding bill for the Department of Justice for Fiscal Year 2017, and as they develop the Fiscal Year 2018 budget request early this year. The Department of Justice must have the necessary resources to prevent, investigate and prosecute potential hate crimes throughout the country in order protect the freedoms that every American deserves.

I expect Senator Sessions to use his confirmation hearing this week to leave no doubt that he is fully dedicated to the idea that all Americans deserve the freedom and opportunity to pursue their hopes and dreams. That is the promise of America and everyone needs to trust that he will faithfully make sure we keep it. If Senator Sessions cannot or will not make a full commitment to act on violence borne out of hatred based on race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or any other characteristic, then he has no place serving as America’s top law enforcement official.

All Americans deserve a government that is as good as they are and they are right to demand that our President, our Attorney General and our Department of Justice is committed to the belief that racism, discrimination and hate will not be tolerated in an America that stands united in embracing the diversity of its people.

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