Menendez Speaks Out In Support Of Measure To Crack Down On Hate Crimes

Menendez Speaks Out In Support Of Measure To Crack Down On Hate Crimes

Washington - U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) today spoke on the Senate floor in favor of the Kennedy-Smith hate crimes prevention amendment to the Department of Defense authorization bill. The amendment would give local, state and federal governments broader authority and resources to investigate and prosecute hate crimes based on race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, disability or gender identity.

"Hate crimes violate every principle upon which this country was founded," said Menendez. "The freedoms we often take for granted - freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of religion - become empty promises if we do not protect all those who seek to exercise these freedoms under the Constitution.... This is not about providing special rights; it is about insuring Constitutional rights."

Full text of Menendez's remarks, as prepared for delivery:

"Mr. President. Nine years ago, a young man sat at a bar having a good time. Not unlike thousands of young adults at bars across America, this young man needed a ride home from the bar. So he asked two people he had befriended for a ride. They agreed, and on the way home, they robbed him, pistol whipped him, and tied him to a fence, leaving him for dead. They committed this brutal crime for one reason: because the victim was gay.

"Since that time, the Congress has been struggling to enact the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act - a bill I am proud to co-sponsor. It has received bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate, but for some reason, we have been unable to make this bill a law. Today, I hope this will change.

"Hate crimes violate every principle upon which this country was founded. When our Declaration of Independence proclaimed that 'all men are created equal' - it did not go on to say 'except Muslim or Sikh Americans.' The freedoms we often take for granted - freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of religion - become empty promises if we do not protect all those who seek to exercise these freedoms under the Constitution. And, sadly, Mr. President, right now we are not protecting all of our citizens. This is not about providing special rights; it is about insuring Constitutional rights.

"Local, State, and Federal governments need additional resources and authority to investigate and prosecute hate crimes based on race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, disability, and gender identity. That is exactly what this bill will do. It will allow the Department of Justice to assist in these investigations and prosecutions, and it will provide grants for State and local governments struggling with the costs and logistics of prosecuting these crimes.

"Some people may not think that hate crimes are a real problem in this country. They are absolutely mistaken. In 2005 - the most recent year we have data on - 8,380 hate crimes were reported. Of the single-bias incidents, 54.7% were racially motivated. 17.1% were motivated by religious bias. 14.2% resulted from sexual orientation bias. 13.2% by ethnicity/national origin bias, and just under 1% by disability bias. My home state of New Jersey experienced at least 756 bias incidents, 47% of which were based on racial bias, 36% were based on religious bias, and 11% were based on ethnic bias. I say at least 756 bias incidents, because we do not know how many of these vial attacks have gone unnoticed and un-prosecuted due to the scarce resources currently available to local law enforcement.

"I am proud to have been the author of New Jersey's landmark Bias Crimes Law. We said then that we could not eradicate hate or bigotry in New Jersey with a single act, but we could send a strong societal message that such things would not be tolerated. With this Act, we can do the same for our great Nation.

"Of course, you don't need to rely on my numbers or my experiences to know that hate crimes are alive and well in the United States. All you have to do is watch television. Last Thursday, thousands of protesters descended on the small town of Jena, Louisiana to protest the treatment of six young African Americans. The town was a picture of racial tension - all of which came to the surface months ago when three nooses were hung from a 'whites-only' tree in the Jenna High School. Perhaps if we had stronger hate crime enforcement, this original action which provoked such violence and started the town down its path would have been properly handled and would never have escalated to the degree that it did.

"Make no mistake about it - hate crimes are a serious problem in the United States. A problem we can no longer afford to ignore.

"Some may protest that this is not the time or place to be debating hate crimes legislation. I disagree. For some, it never seems to be the right time or the right place.

"Members of our military are not immune to hate crimes. To the contrary, hate crimes can happen anywhere there are emotions, anywhere there are people with the capability to hate. In 1992, a Navy Sailor, Allen Schindler, was murdered by two fellow sailors because of his sexual orientation. In 1999, PFC Barry Winchell was similarly killed because his attackers believed he was gay. The military has recognized that hate crimes are a problem and sought to prevent them, but more can and must be done.

"Mr. President. It is absolutely appropriate to protect members of our armed forces from the vicious attacks that constitute hate crimes while we are debating the DOD authorization bill. It is absolutely the right time to enact this hate crimes legislation. After all, they're fighting for us around the world to preserve our way of life and to promote Democracy. Let the preservation of the rights of all Americans be the essence of what they are fighting for.

I will vote to invoke cloture on the hate crimes amendment offered by Senator Kennedy and Senator Smith. I urge my colleagues to do the same."

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