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June 16, 2016

Charleston Anniversary: We Mourn, We Act

One year ago, on June 17, 2015, a white supremacist murdered nine parishioners at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.   It’s terrible – and unfair – that the quiet space in time we should have had to reflect and properly mourn these murders targeting African-Americans has been literally blown apart by another tragedy – even larger in scale – involving the deliberate targeting of members of the LGBTQ community in Orlando this past weekend.

We can and must grieve for the victims of the heartless white supremacist who murdered nine people who had welcomed him into prayer,

communion, and fellowship.   We can and must mourn the victims in Orlando celebrating life during Pride Month and Latino Night.

And:  we can do more than stand in solidarity and mourn.

On this anniversary, after a weekend of bias-motivated mayhem, we should rededicate ourselves to ensuring that we, as a nation, are doing all we can to fight hate and extremism.

1)     Law enforcement authorities are now investigating what role – if any – radical interpretations of Islam played in inspiring the Orlando murderer to act — and that work is clearly justified.  But we must recognize and pay attention to extremism and hate coming from all sources – including white supremacists, like the murderer in Charleston.

2)     Charleston and Orlando are further evidence that firearms are more pop­u­lar than ever as the deadly weapons of choice for Amer­i­can extrem­ists. We must end limitations on federal research on gun violence – and make it more difficult to obtain firearms through increased waiting periods, safety restrictions, and limitations on purchases – especially of assault-style weapons.   None of these steps will certainly prevent the next gun-toting mass murderer – but, as President Obama said, “to actively do nothing is a decision as well.”

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Photo Credit: Cal Sr via Flikr

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church.
Photo Credit: Cal Sr via Flikr

3)     We need more inclusive and extensive laws in place to combat violence motivated by hate and extremism.  On the state level, though 45 states and the District of Columbia have hate crime laws, a handful of states – including South Carolina – do not (the others are Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, and Wyoming).  ADL and a broad coalition of three dozen national organizations have formed #50 States Against Hate to improve the response to all hate crimes, with more effective laws, training, and policies.

And, though hate crime laws are very important, they are a blunt instrument – it’s much better to prevent these crimes in the first place.  Congress and the states should complement these laws with funding for inclusive anti-bias education, hate crime prevention, and bullying, cyberbullying, and harassment prevention training programs.

4)     And finally, let us resolve to more fiercely resist unnecessary and discriminatory laws, like North Carolina’s HB 2, that deprive individuals of the opportunity to live their lives in dignity, free from persecution because of their race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

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June 7, 2016

Attacks Against Police Are Not Hate Crimes

The Anti-Defamation League and many other groups have deep concerns about a new Louisiana statute – the so-called “Blue Lives Matter” law – that inserts police and firefighters into the state’s hate crime law.    ADL is proud of the special connections and joint initiatives we have with the law enforcement community.  As the non-governmental agency that works most closely with and trains more state and local police and federal law enforcement officials than anyone else, we strongly support laws that deter attacks against police.  In Louisiana – and nearly every other state – an assault against a police officer is already a serious crime, carrying a more severe penalty than an assault against a civilian.  Therefore, Louisiana’s new “Blue Lives Matter” law is unnecessary, and could even make it more difficult to prosecute attacks against police.

Police groupHate crimes target individuals or institutions because of race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, disability, or gender identity, focus on personal characteristics.  They are designed to intimidate the victim and members of the victim’s community, leaving them feeling fearful, isolated, vulnerable, and unprotected by the law.   These incidents can damage the fabric of our society and fragment communities.

Crimes against police also, obviously, have a serious and deeply harmful community impact.   But adding police – or any other category based on vocation or employment – confuses the purpose of hate crime laws, and threatens to make crimes against police more difficult to prove.  If police are included in hate crime laws, prosecutors would face the additional requirement of having to prove both that the perpetrator attacked the officer – and that the act was committed because he/she was a police officer.  That additional intent requirement, which is not included in existing laws covering attacks on police officers, would make prosecutions more difficult, not easier.

While there is widespread documentation that hate crimes based on personal characteristics are downplayed and underreported, there is no evidence that prosecutors anywhere in the country are failing to vigorously investigate and prosecute crimes against police.  To further highlight their serious treatment, the FBI specially tracks and prepares an annual report on these crimes,

Louisiana should reconsider, and its statute should not be replicated by other states.

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March 18, 2016

Seeking Justice: The Pardon of Leo Frank

This week marks the 30th anniversary of a significant event in ADL history – the decision by the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles to posthumously pardon Leo Frank.  Frank was the Jewish manager of an Atlanta pencil factory who was falsely accused and wrongly convicted in August 1913 of the rape and murder of Mary Phagan, a 13-year-old girl who worked in the factory. leo-frank-anti-semitism

Anti-Semitism was rampant in the early 1900’s and Leo Frank’s trial attracted national attention and significant press coverage – including irresponsible press outlets that inflamed the public with base and salacious anti-Semitism.  The trial itself was infected with a pervasively-hostile and anti-Semitic atmosphere – from the arguments of the prosecuting attorney to furious mobs shouting “Hang the Jew!” outside the courthouse.  Leo Frank’s trial and conviction shocked and galvanized the American Jewish community – and underlined the importance of the establishment of the Anti-Defamation League, which was founded in Chicago in 1913 with a mission to “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.”

Frank appealed his conviction – all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled 7 to 2, that Frank’s constitutional due process rights had not been violated.  Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes and Charles Evans Hughes strongly dissented:  “Mob law does not become due process of law by securing the assent of a terrorized jury. “

After all appeals were exhausted, Georgia Governor Georgia John M. Slaton reviewed the case and commuted Frank’s death sentence to life imprisonment. That courageous decision in June 1915, enraged many and sparked riots in the streets.  Two months later, a mob of armed men kidnapped Frank from his prison cell, drove him over 100 miles to Marietta (Mary Phagan’s hometown) and lynched him.

Leo Frank lynching

Efforts to vindicate justice for Leo Frank were strengthened in 1982, when eighty-three-year-old Alonzo Mann, who ran errands in the factory as a boy, came forward to announce that he had seen the factory janitor carrying Mary Phagan’s body to the basement on the day of her death.  The janitor had threatened to kill him if he told anyone.  ADL’s Atlanta-based Southern Counsel, Charles Wittenstein and prominent immigration lawyer and national ADL leader Dale Schwartz led a vigorous legal campaign to clear Frank’s name.  And on March 11, 1986, those efforts were rewarded with a pardon.  The landmark decision, however, did not exonerate Frank and prove his innocence.  Instead, Georgia pardoned Frank because of their failure to protect him and bring his murderers to justice.

 It’s hard to imagine a trial steeped in such anti-Semitism or racism today, but our nation is far from free of anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant discrimination and hate crimes.  Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said:  “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”  The anniversary of Leo Frank’s pardon is teachable moment and a reminder that the arc does not bend by itself – people striving for equality and justice – even justice, delayed – need to bend it.

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