December 07, 2007

RESOLUTION CONDEMNING HANGING OF NOOSES AND URGING VIGOROUS INVESTIGATION AND PROSECUTION OF HATE CRIMES

Mr. President, earlier this year this Nation marked the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1957. That landmark legislation was Congress' first civil rights bill since the end of Reconstruction.

It established the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department and empowered Federal prosecutors to obtain court injunctions against interference with the right to vote. It also established a Federal Commission on Civil Rights with authority to investigate discriminatory conditions and recommend corrective measures.

In the Judiciary Committee, under the leadership of my distinguished colleague, the senior Senator from Vermont, we held a hearing to commemorate this milestone, to talk about our Nation's progress over the past half century and how we must move forward if we are to live up to the ideals enumerated in the Constitution. My former colleague from the House and an American hero, John Lewis , shared his recollections and his hopes for the future with us.

Today, however, it is with great sadness that I come to the Senate floor to talk about a rash of incidents involving the hanging of nooses in this country.   These incidents are a painful reminder of just how far we have to go.   Today I rise to introduce a Senate resolution that expresses the sense of the Senate that: the hanging of nooses is a horrible act when used for the purpose of intimidation, and which under certain circumstances can be a criminal act; that it should be thoroughly investigated by Federal, state, and local law enforcement authorities; and that any criminal violations should be vigorously prosecuted.   The House of Representatives unanimously passed a similar resolution on Wednesday, H.Res. 826, and I ask the Senate to take the same action today.

American students are being targeted by this epidemic of hate crimes, many of which have occurred after the Jena-6 incident arose.   Just this year, nooses were discovered hung on the campuses of the University of Maryland, Indiana State University, the United States Coast Guard Academy, East Carolina University, North Carolina State, and Columbia University, and Louisiana State University, and Purdue.

 

Nooses are being found in elementary and high schools, in Illinois, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, and New York.  And so we have a new generation of children who are growing up with the same symbols of hate that proliferated more than one hundred years ago. 

 

Our nation's first responders are targeted with these symbols of hate: firefighters in Jacksonville, Florida, and police departments in Hempstead and Brooklyn, New York.   Hospitals have also witnessed the display of nooses in Pittsburgh, PA, and Orangeburg, NY.   Finally, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed more than 30 lawsuits for hanging nooses in the workplace since 2001, and stated that it observed "a disturbing national trend of increased racial harassment case involving hangman's nooses in the workplace."

Let us remember the chilling history of the United States on this subject.   The hanging of nooses and lynching was first used to punish African slaves as early as the 17 th century, and was still commonplace in the United States until the 1960's civil rights movement.   An estimated 5,000 people were lynched in the United States - roughly 70% of which were African-Americans - between the 1880's and 1960's.

Mr. President, the situation is even more dire than most Americans imagine. The Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project counted 844 active hate groups in the United States in 2006.

Hate crimes' tentacles reach far beyond the intended targets. They bring a chill to entire neighborhoods and create a sense of fear, vulnerability, and insecurity in our communities. They poison the well of our democracy and strike at the very heart of the American spirit.

Hate crimes are un-American. They cannot be tolerated. When individuals are targeted and attacked because of who they are, entire communities suffer and we are all diminished by it.  I call on the Senate today to condemn the recent spate of noose hangings and urge vigorous federal, state, and local investigation and prosecution of criminal violations.