WASHINGTON (NNPA) - To stem the tide of hate crimes in the country, a civil rights organization has joined forces with a prominent Jewish group to support fighting hate crimes. Wade Henderson, the executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and the Michael Lieberman, Washington counsel of the Anti-Defamation League, said hate crime is becoming a serious problem that needs to be dealt with as the country's demographics change and technology becomes a tool of information and activism for hate groups.
A report released on June 16 by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund titled, "Confronting the New Face of Hate: Hate Crimes in America in 2009," says recent history that suggests America is on a more progressive path in terms of racial and ethnic relations is simply not true.
"For many, the election of President Barack Obama appeared to close the book on a long history of inequality in America," the report said in its executive summary. "But the spate of racially-motivated hate crimes and violence against minorities and immigrants that occurred before and after Election Day makes clear that a final victory over prejudice and racial hostility remains elusive. It is time for our nation to redouble its efforts to combat the commission of hate crimes in America."
Henderson said that a hate crime is committed "every hour, every day in America."
"We were very happy when Sen. Harry Reid (U.S. Senate majority leader) said that his body will take up the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 before the August recess," said Henderson. "Now is the time for Congress to act on hate crimes legislation."
Henderson said two factors that seem to fuel the growth of hate crimes and outright acts of violence, such as what happened at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, are the faltering economy and the election of Obama to the White House. "Those two events seems to have stoked the fire of these hate groups," he said.
The FBI's 2007 Hate Crime report states:
• Approximately 51 percent of the reported hate crimes were race-based, with 18.4 percent on the basis of religion, 16.6 percent on the basis of sexual orientation and 13.2 percent on the basis of ethnicity.
• Approximately 69 percent of the reported race-based crimes were against Blacks, 19 percent against Whites and 4.9 percent against Asians or Pacific Islanders.
• For the fourth year in a row, the number of reported crimes directed against Hispanics increased – from 576 in 2006 to 595 in 2007.
Lieberman, the co-editor of the report, said the debate over immigration reform and the new technology has also fueled the growth of hate groups. "The report talks about a rise in hate crimes but we have really seen crimes against Hispanics go up considerably," said Lieberman.
"The thing that is really bad is the mainstreaming of hate, when anti-immigrant language and the tone of the immigration debate become contentious and harsh. Reasonable people can disagree but too many times the debate becomes uncivil.
"When these comments become too nasty, responsible leaders need to repudiate them and that is not happening enough."
To combat the trend of growing hate groups, the report recommends: the tone for the immigration reform debate be civil and civic, a strong law enforcement response to hate crimes and complementing tough laws and vigorous enforcement with education and training initiatives designed to reduce prejudice.
It recommends the passing of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 as soon as possible so those agencies have the tools to combat hate crimes through educating law enforcement officers about how to deal effectively with hate crimes and urging state and local lawmaking bodies to assess harsher criminal penalties for the commitment of hate crimes.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed its version of the bill in late April by a vote of 249-175.
Noting that Obama has received the most threats of any sitting president according to the U.S. Secret Service, Henderson said the report and the action of Congress could do a lot to either stop or retard the actions of hate groups and individuals.
Says Henderson, "It is important for people of goodwill to say that hate crimes are wrong and if you commit them, you will be severely punished.''