White House Conference on Hate Crimes

Office of the Press Secretary


Dorothy Betts Marvin Theater
George Washington University

1:15 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Reverend Kyles said, this is a dynamite panel. (Laughter.) I think they were very good. Thank you all very much. (Applause.) Even though we tried to put the Republican on after the kid, he did pretty well, didn't he? (Laughter.) That was so funny. (Laughter.) You know, as good as Arizona was to me, I would never do anything like that. (Laughter.) But you made the best of a difficult situation. You did a good job, Raymond.

Let me ask you all something. We've heard from people who work in enforcement, whether it's an Attorney General or a police chief. We've heard from people who work in writing the laws. We've heard from an educator who's trying to systematically keep these things from happening in the first place and deal with it. We've heard from a minister who has given his whole life dealing with these matters. We've heard from a remarkable citizen here who changed a whole psychology of a community.

We've heard from a young man who had an opportunity to have a remarkable experience, and he made, I thought, a very interesting point, which he deftly went by, but I don't think we should miss it -- he said that he went to a very diverse school where there was a lot of continuing social segregation. And he had an opportunity to escape that on his project when he went to Israel.

In various aspects, I guess most of us who have lived any length of time have been dealing with one or another of these issues our whole lives. It's been my experience when I see some form of bigotry or hatred manifest in a particular person that there's usually one of three reasons that this person has done something bad. One is just ignorance, and the fear it breeds -- I don't know this person who is different from me and I'm afraid, and I manifest this fear in bigotry or violence or something. We see that a lot with the gay and lesbian issues now, you know, where people are at least unaware that they have ever had a family member, a friend, or someone who is homosexual, and they are literally terrified.

Then there are some people -- and I saw this a lot when Secretary Riley and I were kids growing up in the South -- there are some people who really have an almost pathological need to look down on somebody else because they don't have enough regard for themselves, and so they think somehow they can salvage self-regard by finding somebody that at least they think is lower down than they are.

And then, there are people who have been brutalized themselves and who have no way of dealing with it, no way of coming out of it, and they return brutality with brutality. There may be others, but that's been my experience.

Anyway, I ask you that to make this point -- I announced a series of measures that we would take in my opening remarks, but you're in all these things. What advice do you have for me, for the Attorney General, for the Secretary of Education, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Secretary of Agriculture who deals, interestingly enough, with some important aspects of this, and the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and Transportation -- I think I mentioned them all -- the members of Congress -- what is the most important thing the nation can do through the national government? What should we be focusing on? If you could give me advice -- you've been very good to talk about your own experience and what you're trying to do -- if you could give me advice in a sentence about what you think we ought to do to move the ball down the road to help deal with this, what advice would you give us? What advice would you give to Senator Kennedy and the House members that are here? What should we be doing at the national level?

Sheila, do you want to go first? (Laughter.) You're good at this, so I think everybody else deserves a chance to think. You're good at this, you have to go first. (Laughter.)

MS. KUEHL: And you know I'm not going to say, "No, Mr. President, thank you very much." (Laughter.)

Well, I guess there's two things. I mean, I am struck as a lawmaker now, which I had never been before 1994, about the power of the expression of the law -- not just the club of it, but the bully pulpit of it; the expression of the morality of the country.

You have the biggest bully pulpit in the country and your saying that this is an important thing makes it an important thing -- just like when you show up somewhere makes it an important thing. (Applause.) So I thank the two Senators who have agreed to carry the legislation, because that goes a long way, the continuation of it and the expansion of the categories.

I guess the second thing is that everyone involved in the government who needs to work on this has to recognize the grand power of coalition and the willingness, as you look out here, of all of this diversity to work together. That's the strength of it.

My brother in the state legislature, Antonio Veragosa (phonetic), is here. He's our majority leader, a confirmed heterosexual -- (laughter and applause) --

THE PRESIDENT: There's a man who wants to be identified -- (laughter.)

MS. KUEHL: But he carried the legislation for us, which is the same as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and by associating himself with the gay and lesbian community took the same kind of stuff that we take, and said, what can you do to me, I'm a Latino, I understand this already. And that, I think, is very, very important for all the departments, for the Cabinet, for yourself to remember is that there is so much willingness to work on this and be used that I think it expands the bully pulpit and expands the reach of the law. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: Anybody else want to answer that question?

SECRETARY RILEY: Mr. President, let me address a question to Peter Berendt and perhaps Raymond. I know -- let's think about schools. Of course, I think prevention of hate is really the ideal that we want to all talk about. We have been involved in character education, members of the House and Senate here and the President and I -- identification of basic American values, like honesty and respect for others and so forth, and I'm very interested, and appreciate your diversity awareness and so forth and all that's so helpful.

It appears to me that in music and the arts and even sports, team working with students and even team teaching these subjects, sensitivity subjects, can be very well addressed. And I wonder if you would comment on some of those. Those are local-state issues, but we, of course, are interested -- bully pulpit and other ways, with them.

MR. BERENDT: Surely, I'll try and address your question, Mr. Secretary and yours, Mr. President. First, I think you have begun to do some very meaningful work in calling this conference together, and I sure hope that we all recognize that this is not just a one-day conference, that we need to continue this work as each of us retreat back to our homes, our schools, and our constituent groups, we need to carry the message that you have set forth. Certainly, it is -- the policies that you've outlined this morning are just another way of making a community aware of the need to understand and be sensitive to the diversity issues.

In our schools, the importance is dealing with the entire community, not just one segment of it; that it includes as not only the students or the faculty, but also that it encompasses the larger community -- the parents and all of those groups that are so vital to the running of our educational system.

Within that, the arts are a wonderful vehicle for giving us the opportunity to celebrate our diversity; to gain a clear understanding of who we are; and to showcase the talents that Americans have -- the talent that they're able to bring to the forefront through either an individual gift that they have or through an acquired skill.

So, Mr. Secretary, I would say that what we need to do as educators is to foster and to water those talents, to encourage our artists in whatever form they take to express themselves through our educational institutions, and to celebrate the messages that they communicate to us through the medium that they use.

THE PRESIDENT: Raymond, talk a little more about this whole issue of having an integrated school that's socially segregated. What bothers you about it and what do you think we can do about it?

RAYMOND DELOS REYES: Well, what bothers me is that in one of my classes a couple of years ago in middle school -- about in the '60s or so, I think that schools were desegregated throughout the whole nation. However, right now, if you look around at the schools you'll have certain groups hang around in one area, and then in another, and then there are some groups that just move around, kind of roam around the school. And I don't know how you can get past it, because I guess throughout the years I've heard about this and now I'm experiencing it my second year in high school. And I have no idea on how this is going to change.

I mean, maybe someone will have to step up and really, really confront this issue, because I really don't see much meshing within the groups. I mean, in the classrooms, everything is cool, but after school, before school, lunch time when everybody gets their chance to be outside and hang around their friends, one person's main group of friends is usually of their own race. The group of friends that I hang around is predominantly Asian. And I must admit I am also a part of the that problem and I think a number of students or someone -- not just one person, but a group of people need to step up and really address this issue. It's not something we have to do, but it's something that should be done.

THE PRESIDENT: Don't you think you almost have to have an organized effort to do it? There would almost have to be some sort of club or organization at the school -- because if you think about it, your parents are still pretty well separated. Now, we all work together more than we ever have before, just like you go to school together. But most neighborhoods are still fairly segregated. Most houses of worship are still fairly segregated. We're making more progress on it, but I think you almost have to organize your way out of this.

I guess that's why I asked you the question I did earlier, because every time this issue is confronted, we can point to Billings and the stirring story of a menorah in every window. But somehow, we have to find a disciplined, organized way out of this so that we reach every child in an affirmative way before something bad happens, and so that at least -- I don't think there is anything bad with people hanging around with members of their own ethnic groups in a lot of different ways. I think that's a good thing. I just think that people also really, really need systematic opportunities to relate to people across racial and ethnic and other lines. And my own opinion is that, just from my own experience is that unless there is an organized effort in your school to do it, it's not going to happen, because if you just wait for people spontaneously to go out at recess, lunch or after school, it's just not going to happen. It's too much trouble, there's too much psychic risk in it.

And I hope you'll be able to do something about it, because I really respected you for raising it. It's a big problem in every school that I have ever been to in this country.

ATTORNEY GENERAL WOODS: Mr. President, I think I'd like to, from the prosecutor's perspective, I'd like to say that I know General Reno agrees that we're committed to the prosecution of hate crimes, and law enforcement, I think, is becoming more and more aware, and we will be there. But I think any prosecutor who knows really what he or she is talking about understands that you can do all of the enforcement in the world and you can't solve the problem unless you solve it on the front end rather than the back end. And so it's appropriate for common justice, to seek justice, that we work here on the back end, and with Senator Kennedy's bill hopefully we'll have more justice than we have today.

But this problem here, in my experience, is the key, I think, to the future. And that is, I do believe that children today are not taught basic principles of equality and respect for each other and respect for the dignity of every human being regardless of our differences as much as they once were in this country. And as you say, they come from families that aren't necessarily exposed to that diversity, and they live in a culture, a popular culture that doesn't necessarily always celebrate the positive sides of this country that we've talked about today.

So if there is not an organized counterbalance to teach these children different ways to resolve conflicts rather than violence, to teach them that they need to stand up for something better when people make an antisemitic remark or a racial remark, that it's up to them to take charge of their own lives and really make their own generation's mark here, if that's not there in an organized way, I think that we will find that the gains we've made over the last quarter of a century will slip away.

And so, to answer your question, which I think is the most important question of the day, I agree with Sheila. You and all of your people need to do whatever you can to educate children yourself, as children in this country look to you for what's right and wrong, and also to strongly encourage, Mr. Secretary, all schools, since we have the children there, to provide that counterbalance to the negativity that popular culture often brings.

THE PRESIDENT: Tammie, you told your story about the brick coming through the window at your child's bed. Were there similar manifestations of bigotry among the children in the schools, or was it mostly older people? And is there anything going on in the Billings schools to try to offset this?

MS. SCHNITZER: Well, what had happened in 1993 certainly created a basis to discuss this issue and had brought this issue to the limelight. The most frustrating part about trying to sell the community on this issue was being told by representatives of our state that once we got this off the front page of the paper, my problem would be over with. So there wasn't a clear understanding of the adults. And I believe educating the educated was probably the hardest part in dealing with this issue. It really was. (Applause.)

And I truly believe that when we talk about teams, when we talk about sport activities, we've lost the concept of a team within ourselves. I don't have a community unless I have a team here. The community doesn't have me unless I'm a part of the community. I don't have a community unless I accept my community. I have comfort within my community, and it's my job to take responsibility for my community. That's the ultimate team.

Have I lost that concept? Have we forgotten to teach our children that? I don't want to have to wait until my child goes to kindergarten for him to learn that. (Applause.) But most importantly, I think that we really need to understand that this isn't a children's issue. We have children that we educate in our school systems, and then they go home and then they hear racial jokes from their parents. Or let's talk about institutionalized racism here. How about when I go into a grocery store and I'm with a Native American woman -- her check is questioned but mine is not. This problem is far deeper than just going within the school systems. I have to own it as an adult with myself. I have to teach my grandparents first, before I can teach my kids. (Applause.)

CHIEF VENEGAS: Mr. President, I think what you're hearing from us is that there's no real magic bullet out there. But I guess, personally, if I was to offer anything from our experience in Sacramento, is that it really takes the united front of everyone. And, as Tammie has indicated, that everyone is us as a community of America; and that it's not only important for America, but it really is important for the world, because whether we like it or not, the world looks to us for that leadership. And so taking this step, as you have, and others, is a very important one for the world.

The other part that I believe is really important for us -- and it's something that you said this morning -- and that's to not become complacent and believe that everything is now great because of what we have achieved in a very short time. And the fact is that in this country, the experiment that is America of 200 years, can go down the tubes in one or two real quickly -- maybe not a total revolution of a country, but a revolution of its people as they have a lack of tolerance for differences of people. And you see it experienced not only at the individual level, but you see it in communities where riots have broken out and race has been the issue.

And for us to believe that those gains that we have made since the mid-'60s now makes everything okay is totally ludicrous, and that in reality, now, as we come to grip with those successes, the battle actually gets meaner, and that we cannot allow it to become the politics that it is becoming; and that collectively, the leadership of the state, local and federal governments, with you as our leader of our country, must be united in that front in mobilizing our entire communities for a zero tolerance against hate violence. (Applause.)

REVEREND KYLES: It occurs to me that you're so right, Chief. The fact that you have placed it on the front burner, so to speak, the initiative that you have with the dialogue on race is so important, because cities are not burning, not physically they're not burning. And you're doing it in a calmer fashion, where there is some calm.

But there is so much opportunity. I was so hopeful -- and I remain hopeful -- I was not as hopeful before the church community, the faith community got involved in the church burnings. The media didn't pick certain ones up, until we got it in the media -- hateful things. And then the church took the lead in bringing other organizations together and just did a fantastic job of resisting that kind of behavior. And you, yourself going to Tennessee to help rebuild the church just gave a whole -- I mean, it gave a kind of calmness and hopefulness that we didn't have.

Before that, I was pretty much disturbed that -- quote, unquote -- "the white church" almost gave comfort and aid to people who were doing things like that. They were sitting there in the morning service, looking up, and people in the congregation pretty much knew who they were, who people were who had committed those crimes. And the kind of interchange and teaching that you're talking about doing for children, the church must take that kind of lead, the white church. So as I said in my remarks, through all of it I have remained so hopeful.

As far as the schools, I think that withholding funds from some of the schools where you have that, if they don't put something in place to handle the kinds of things that we've talked about, then I think that if they get federal funds, that's another weapon we can use, to withhold federal funds until they come up with something. You see fraternities now burning black people in effigy and all kinds of hateful things, and that school should have some program, some mechanism in place to deal with that, or risk losing -- make it very expensive to commit a hate crime. (Applause.)

MS. KUEHL: I have one more thing -- let me add one more thing. One of the things that I think -- I know that I'll see when Congress comes to debate these laws is a question about the hierarchy of the importance of categories and whether or not it makes sense to include gays and lesbians, for instance, some question about whether that's as important as other kinds of hatred. Or when we talk about gender and people say, rape is not committed on the basis of hate and you have to go, oh, yeah, maybe you haven't been there.

So my last piece of advice about your question would be -- and I think to all of the Cabinet and the members of Congress -- to resist that notion that there is some hierarchy of importance, because looking around this room, where we've all showed up for each other and where we're all prepared to be there for each other, and know that that's the greatest strength, I think that that's going to be important to resist, because that only helps people who wish we could commit hate crimes with impunity -- we'll carve this section out and it won't be a hate crime, or whatever. So I hope that that will also be an important part of the dialogue. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: Once we cross the great sort of intellectual and emotional hurdle that might be presented to some with Senator Kennedy and Senator Specter's bill, I, frankly, think the next big problem will be a practical one -- Sheila, you talk about ranking the categories. I think there is a practical question -- which you can help with because you've written the law, which Grant can help with because Arizona has a law -- But the Attorney General and I, we will have to answer a lot of questions about this law about not whether or not rape is motivated by hate or not, but whether or not if we include all these categories in the law, we will, in effect, be lumping into federal law enforcement a lot of crimes that are actually being prosecuted now at the state and local level through the existing criminal justice system in a way that will clog the system because we're trying to be politically sensitive, instead of actually going out now and covering offenses where people are getting away with murder, by abusing people because they're gay or they're disabled or whatever they're doing.

That, I think, is a practical question, but we need your help in getting through that. You have a law like that in Arizona, you have a law like that in California. And that's what we're going to be asked when we go up there to defend Senator Kennedy's bill -- that's where we're going to be hit -- aren't you just creating a whole new category of federal crimes that are being prosecuted anyway at the state level and all that sort of stuff. And if you will help us, I think that will be very good.

General Reno, do you want to say anything before we wrap up?

ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: I would just ask of the Chief and the Attorney General and Reverend Kyles, in all of this, I agree that the first line of defense is to prevent it. But then it is very important when you see hate to speak out against it immediately and strike it down, because as I have always said, haters are cowards and they will back down in many instances.

How can we in the federal government improve our coordination with local law enforcement, with the state authorities, and with groups such as the churches or other advocacy groups in the community, one, to get it reported, and two, to work with you so that the investigations and the prosecutions are conducted in the best way, designed with one objective in mind to eliminate hate and not just who gets the credit? (Applause.)

CHIEF VENEGAS: Madam Attorney General, I guess -- and it would address the President's concern about the legislation and how it gets passed -- I would suggest to you from our experience is that by federalizing the crime, you enable the resources of the federal government to really join in partnership with the state and local law enforcement agencies, not only in the investigations, but in the eventual prosecution. And both the federal government and state governments hire bright people, contrary to popular belief, that can sort out whether or not you're going to prosecute in federal law or state courts. And I would suggest to you that partnerships work a heck of a lot better than the folks who may only have limited resources in some of the communities who cannot afford in-depth investigations.

The other part for us, at least, in Sacramento and the district of California that I work in, is not being afraid as a community to speak out. And I've been really proud of the U.S. Attorney's office in being up front and coordinating the federal efforts toward not only prosecution, but the education of the community and about the devastating effects that hate violence can have, and the leadership that they have taken. And that's served us well, and we offer it as a model for the rest of the country where it doesn't exist.


Secretary Riley, do you want to wrap up for us?

SECRETARY RILEY: Well, I do have the responsibility of concluding this powerful panel, and I -- while Grant had to follow Raymond, I think it would have been difficult to follow anybody on the panel, including you, Mr. President and the other speakers. So I want to thank everyone for that. And, of course, we will end up in breakout session where we can really deal with some specific responses, solutions, and continue the discussion of awareness that has taken place. I thank all of the panel members, and then I look forward to us reconvening here at the breakout session.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much.

Ladies and gentlemen, as you know, we're going to break for lunch now, and then the whole conference will resume. Again, I want to thank President Trachtenberg and George Washington, but I mostly want to thank all of you, because the real answer to our success in this endeavor is obviously that we all have to work together. And all of you can strike new energy into this entire endeavor around the country. We will take our initiatives that we outlined today -- we urge you to give us more ideas -- but you are actually the heart and soul of this endeavor, and a lot of you have stories that I wish all the rest of us could sit and hear today.

Thank you for being here, and thank you for being a a part of the conference. (Applause.)

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