Civil Rights Protesters Surround The Justice Department, Demand More Focus On Hate Crimes

Earlier this month, USA Today reported that “the Justice Department is prosecuting the fewest hate crimes in 10 years” with 22 people charged with hate crimes by the department last year, which is “down 71% from 76 in 1997.” The decline in hate crimes prosecutions accompanies a series of high-profile “racially charged incidents over the past year and a half” — such as the Jena 6 controversy — that have ignited the passions of the civil rights community.

That passion was on display today in Washington D.C., where thousands of protesters encircled the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building, demanding, in the words of Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL), either “stronger laws” or “a more aggressive commitment from the Department of Justice.”

During the march, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) told CNN’s Don Lemon that the “bottom line” was that “vulnerable Americans need to have confidence in the Department of Justice and the Civil Rights Division”:

Bottom line is, we want the lights turned on. We want a restored Civil Rights Division. We want it replenished in terms of staffing and funding, which the Bush administration has cut. And we want the new attorney general to wake up and understand that vulnerable Americans need to have confidence in the Department of Justice and the Civil Rights Division.

Watch CNN’s coverage of the march:

[flv http://video.thinkprogress.org/2007/11/HateCrimesProtest.320.240.flv]

As Lemon noted in his report, “the Justice Department did not want to appear on camera” discussing the march, but Attorney General Michael Mukasey did release a statement in which he both defended the department and commended the demonstrators:

The mission of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is as vital today as when it was created 50 years ago. Those who march today should be commended for highlighting the issues of tolerance and civil liberties. We hope that all can agree that it is the criminals who commit violent acts of hate who deserve the loudest protest. And as long as hatred and racism exist, the Justice Department will continue its hard and effective work on behalf of all victims of hate crimes.

Both the House and the Senate have passed hate crimes bills this year, but the Bush administration has threatened to veto any stand alone hate crimes legislation.