Posted by Kai Wiggins on April 26, 2019 in Blog

On Thursday, April 25, 2019, AAI Executive Director Maya Berry participated in a policy briefing on Capitol Hill hosted by The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. The briefing was organized as a follow-up, of sorts, to this month's House Judiciary Committee hearing on "Hate Crimes and the Rise of White Nationalism." As we noted in a statement submitted to the committee, two witnesses in particular derailed the initial hearing, casting aspersions, denigrating whole communities, and obfuscating the issues. Knowing that many members of Congress are committed to preventing hate crime, this briefing was convened to ensure the conversation remains on the right track.

Nadia Aziz, Co-interim Director of the Lawyers' Committee's Stop Hate Project and AAI National Policy Council member, moderated the briefing, which included Kristen Clarke, President of Lawyers' Committee, Cassie Miller of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Alfred A. Wilson of the Heather Heyer Foundation, and Berry. Each panelist presented a compelling case for improving the response of the federal government, as well as state and local authorities, to the burgeoning threats facing targeted and vulnerable communities. Full video of the hearing is available at this link

Read Maya Berry's full remarks here.

During the briefing, Kristen Clarke highlighted the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law’s work to address white supremacist activity online and innovative proposals for hate crime prevention, including through Title VI of 1964 Civil Rights Act, which requires that public funds not be used to entrench racial discrimination. Cassie Miller from SPLC underscored the recent escalation of hate group activity, which they rigorously document, and the necessity of a more effective response from federal authorities. She emphasized the importance of data collection to inform policy. In his remarks, Alfred A. Wilson of the Heather Heyer Foundation spoke about the legacy of Heather Heyer, a passionate advocate for justice who was killed in Charlottesville on August 12, 2017, and the eponymous foundation that works in her memory. He also discussed ripple effects of hate crime and the need for "tough conversations."

Berry shared AAI’s approach to hate crime, which is informed by the historical experiences of the Arab American community and the recent increase of hate crime in federal statistics, despite glaring omissions from data. Such omissions include the killings Heather Heyer and Khalid Jabara, an Arab American from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who was shot to death outside the front door of his family's home on August 12, 2016. In addition to state and local reforms, AAI is working to advance efforts in Congress to improve data collected under the Hate Crime Statistics Act and reported in federal statistics. We believe in a unifying, bipartisan approach, something deserving of Khalid and Heather's names.

During a time of increased political polarization, improving hate crime data collection should be considered "low-hanging fruit" for Congress, a sure-fire way to demonstrate the strength of our ideals and our institutional capabilities to protect the rights of all Americans. For resources on hate crime data for 2017 (the most recent year available), check out our website.

For more on our hate crime reporting & data collection research, see our 2018 report, which features a comparative review of laws & policies designed to prevent hate crime in every state plus the District of Columbia, as well as analysis of federal and state hate crime statistics.