In a Sunday address at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Alabama, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said Martin Luther King Jr. would “surely be disappointed by how much racism still exists” in America nearly five decades after his assassination.
“Unfortunately, half a century later, Americans are still the target of violence and hate crimes,” Rosenstein said. “In Charlottesville last month, we saw and heard people openly advocate racism and bigotry, and commit terrible acts of violence. Our Department of Justice responded immediately. The United States Attorney’s Office, the Civil Rights Division, and the FBI are working closely with our state and local law enforcement partners.”
“The First Amendment often protects hateful speech that is abhorrent to American values. But there can be no protection for violence,” he added. “Two years ago, a racist criminal carried out a diabolical attack at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The killer murdered nine innocent and unarmed members of a Bible study group. He espoused his desire to spark a race war. He was convicted on federal hate crime charges, and sentenced to death.”
Rosenstein stressed how “it is important for us to recognize that a violent attack on any American based on race is an attack on American values,” and “hate crime statutes are a tool to enforce that principle.”
“Hate crimes have a devastating effect beyond the harm inflicted on any one person. They reverberate through families, communities, and the entire nation, as others fear that they too could be threatened, by someone acting with the same un-American motive,” he said.
“…We try to be proactive to prevent crimes from happening in the first place. When crimes do occur, we will prosecute them.”
At the end of August, the deputy attorney general noted, Thomas Herris Sigler, III, 46, and William A. Dennis, 56, were sentenced to serve 33 and 21 months incarceration, respectively, for intimidating an interracial couple who moved next door to the perpetrators’ Port Richey, Fla., home.
“In an effort to intimidate an interracial couple living next door, they built a wooden cross and poured gasoline on it. Then they carried that cross to the neighbors’ front yard. They propped it against the mailbox and set it on fire. Those perpetrators were sentenced to spend years in federal prison,” Rosenstein said. “On August 21, two Texas defendants admitted that they were guilty of assaulting men because of their sexual orientation. The perpetrators persuaded one man to invite them to his home. Then they attacked him, stole his car and other property, and made derogatory comments about his sexual orientation. They will pay a heavy price.”
“On August 16, a Florida man pled guilty to a federal hate crime for attempting to bomb a Jewish community center with firearms and explosives,” he said, adding examples of other hate crimes against Muslims, men of Indian descent, and the transgendered.
“Unfortunately, many hate crimes are not reported to law enforcement. We cannot prosecute crimes if we do not know about them. You can help us by encouraging people to report suspected hate crimes. No one should suffer in silence, and no criminal should get away with a hate crime.”